SACRAMENTO — As Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell stood on the basketball court, Lakers coach Byron Scott stared at him with amusement and offered him a challenge. Scott issued a $150 bet that Russell could not bank on a corner 3-pointer. Moments later, Russell proved Scott wrong, though the Lakers’ coach insisted Russell did not agree to the terms before making the shot.
“You didn’t bet that,” Scott said after the Lakers’ morning shootaround on Friday in preparation for tonight’s game against Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena. Scott then turned to reporters, “That was the first in seven tries. He missed the other six.”
The Lakers are banking that Russell will shed his summer league, training camp and early-season struggles. They also became intrigued with Russell’s playmaking and confidence during pre-draft workouts. But Scott also revealed that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss partly drafted Russell because of other external circumstances.
Scott described the crop of free-agent point guards as only “okay,” including Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Miami’s Goran Dragic. Rondo faced question marks about his behavior after frequently clashing with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. Although Dragic had publicly expressed interest in entertaining the Lakers’ interest, there was a sense Dragic felt more inclined to re-sign with the Heat after acquiring him in a mid-season trade from Phoenix. Scott also described the free-agent point guards as “a lot thinner at that position than at the big man position.”
“We saw in the free agent market that there were a ton of big guys,” said Scott, before alluding to missing out on the Lakers’ top target in LaMarcus Aldridge. “If we didn’t get him, there were still a number of big guys we could go after. It made it that much easier to go out in the draft and get a point guard. D’Angelo was that guy.”
Things did not work out as planned in the Lakers’ free agent pursuits. The Lakers landed a second meeting with Aldridge after he felt the first one did not devote enough time on the basketball pitch. Monroe opted for Milwaukee. And Jordan stayed with the Clippers after initially agreeing to go to the Mavericks. The Lakers eventually acquired Roy Hibbert in a trade from Indiana.
Russell posted only four points on 2-of-7 shooting and recorded more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in the Lakers’ season-opening loss to Minnesota on Wednesday at Staples Center. Russell also played at shooting guard with diminished ball-handling duties, something that prompted Scott to revert Russell back at the point guard spot tonight against the Kings. After the Lakers passed him up in the draft, Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor posted 26 points on 62.5 percent shooting, seven rebounds and two blocks. It was also expected Minnesota would use its No. 1 pick on center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 14 points on a 6-of-10 clip and 12 rebounds against the Lakers.
“I hope both of those guys, and I think they will, have great careers. But why should I care about what they do?” Scott said. “I care about what our guy does and what our team does. I don’t look at Philly or Minnesota. I don’t look at other teams. That’s not my concern.”
Instead, Scott is more concerned with how Russell in matching up with Rondo and former UCLA product Darren Collison.
“He’s starting to get that every night in this league there is going to be somebody where that point guard position is pretty damn good,” Scott said. “They look at him as fresh meat. He’s a rookie. He’s young and inexperienced. So most of these guys are going to go at him. He just has to gear himself up for that and be ready to accept the challenge.”
Whether Russell does remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how much of a sample size the various NBA rookies will need to offer a definitive snapshot on their development.
“Everybody is different,” Scott said. “You have some rookies where it takes 10 games to really understand what’s going on there. Some of them take a year. Some of them take a half a year. Some of them take two years. It really depends on the players.”