The pinpoint passes he threw and his confident on-court presence gave D’Angelo Russell the edge over all the other draft prospects the Lakers evaluated. His prolific scoring and insatiable thirst for self-improvement ensured Jordan Clarkson a positive impression among his Lakers teammates, coaches and trainers. Combined together, it appears Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak cannot help but think about good things that will transcend into the franchise’s long-term future.
“Our vision would be that both of those players play together in the backcourt for 10-12 years,” Kupchak said recently on SiriusXM NBA Radio with Brian Geltzeiler and Rick Mahorn. “That’s what we’re hoping for. We don’t look at them as players that can’t play with each other or have to play with somebody else. We think they can play together.”
Yes, the Lakers believe Russell and Clarkson are a perfect match in the backcourt for a few reasons. Russell thrives as a passer, while Clarkson as a scorer. Both Russell and Clarkson could ease Kobe Bryant’s workload and create more space for him in what will mark his 20th and perhaps final NBA season. Both Russell and Clarkson appear determined to perfect their craft amid endless work, learning and self criticism.
So could Russell mirror Magic Johnson? Can they represent the best backcourt since Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Can one of both of them carry the torch Kobe Bryant will pass as the Lakers’ next great?
First things first.
Russell must show he can quickly rebound from a poor Summer League showing where he averaged 11.8 points on only 37.7-percent shooting and logged more turnovers (5.2) than assists (3.2).
“D’Angelo is a young, up and coming player. But I don’t know how much he’s going to play this year,” Kupchak said. “I don’t know if he’ll start. I don’t know if he’ll come off the bench. There’s really a lot we don’t know other than he’s a heck of a prospect. A lot of that is going to depend on how much he works and how hard he works and the progress that he makes between now and the beginning of the season.”
Clarkson must show he can build off his rookie season where he averaged 15.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, five assists and 4.2 rebounds through 38 starts, a stretch that coincided with an elevated role on a team that finished 21-61.
“We were not a very good team, but he showed great promise in NBA games,” Kupchak said of Clarkson. “We think he’s going to be a terrific player. But he has to prove it for another season on hopefully a team that is going to be better, and not just a bad team.”
Of course, one important variable could involve Kobe Bryant both because of his talent, ball dominance and demanding expectations.
Clarkson reported loving Bryant’s tough love. Bryant may have embarrassed Clarkson on a step-back jumper during training camp that caused him to fall down on the ground. But Bryant also enthusiastically gave Clarkson tips from the sideline and in film sessions.
Russell gushed about learning from Bryant. The two already touched base shortly after the Lakers drafted Russell with their second overall pick. Russell also maintained he would soak in all of Bryant’s lessons, whether it entails reduced ball handling and shots, prolonged workouts and verbal lashings from the Lakers’ star.
“Kobe doesn’t really treat rookies very well,” Kupchak said. “That’s not unusual. A lot of veterans, when rookies come to a team, especially if the veteran has been around for a while, it’s like, ‘You have to earn my respect.’ The first two or three weeks of training camp, it is incumbent on the rookies to go out and earn Kobe’s respect.”
How do they do that?
“In every drill, every practice and every sprint, if Kobe’s healthy, he’s going to be leading the pack,” Kupchak said. “He will test our rookies and our young players to keep up with him. Whether it’s a shooting drill, scrimmage of 4-on-4 or even a sprint at the end of practice, Kobe will lead the way. It will be up to the players, especially the rookies, that they belong. One they’ve shown they belong and earned their respect, then the relationship takes off.”
Then, Russell and Clarkson can make the slow steps toward creating memories that Kupchak lasts for over a decade.