D’Angelo Russell’s NBA debut is not a red flag

Last night’s game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers featured the top two picks of last summer’s draft, and No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns posted 16 points and 12 rebounds in Minnesota’s 112-111 victory. No. 2 pick and Lakers point man D’Angelo Russell turned in a far inferior performance, scoring just four points and also posting three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes of play while shooting 2 of 7 from the field.

Though some panicky Lakers fans were probably quick to label Russell as a bust after this game, I have one message for them: calm down. It was one game and Russell is only 19 years old. Moreover, he played at Ohio State and while he had a great freshman season there in averaging 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range, let’s not forget that Towns went to Kentucky, which may as well be an NBA D-League team. Russell’s first game certainly was not ideal, but there’s still plenty of room for hope that he’ll right the ship.

Look at it this way. Towns was drafted by Minnesota to be an immediate impact player at a position of major need. Minnesota is an incredibly young team, so getting him heavily involved in the system early was fairly easy.

The same cannot be said for Russell. Though he was drafted second overall, he plays on a Lakers team that already has established veterans in center Roy Hibbert and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. On top of that, Lakers head coach Byron Scott runs the Princeton Offense, not exactly an ideal system for a scoring point guard who relies heavily on his jump shot. Rather, this system calls for regular ball movement outside the three-point arc before a mismatch is found and a player can cut to the basket for an opportunity. As a result, the system tends to favor the frontcourt, which explains second-year big man Julius Randle posting 15 points and 11 rebounds last night.

On top of that, let’s not forget that Russell is on the same team as a notorious ball-hog in Bryant. All too often, Bryant insists on getting the ball and while he is more than capable of getting more teammates involved, he clearly prefers to carry the team on his back. He scored 24 points last night, but only made 8 of 24 field goal attempts, 13 of which came from long range. Were he to give Russell and the rest of the team more of an opportunity to get involved, the Lakers easily could have won the game.

Thus, though Russell’s NBA debut was certainly not ideal, it’s not anything to be concerned about. He’s going to have an adjustment period like any rookie, especially playing in the Princeton Offense that calls for him to keep the ball moving rather than carry the team himself like he did at Ohio State.

He’s a raw talent and will probably have more ugly games than fans would care to see this season, but there’s no denying that his future his bright and last night’s game is too small a sample size to immediately label him a bust.

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to DisabledSports Sportsblog