The challenges have emerged quickly for Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell. He has already played more NBA games than he did at his lone season at Ohio State. He has had less time to relax, study, recover and practice between those games. He has dealt with the frustration that involved a reserve role and late-game benchings.
But nothing matches the speed Russell has to slow down when he matches up with elite Western Conference point guards. Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Damian Lillard and Chris Paul all represent a handful of opponents Russell has had to defend.
“I’ve still got it,” Russell said Monday at the Lakers’ annual “All-Access” event at Staples Center, sponsored by the L.A. Sports and Entertainment Commission. “I mean, they’ve got to guard me too.”
In his NBA rookie class, Russell has averaged third in scoring (12.3), 11th in field-goal percentage (41.9%) and third in assists (3.4). But in the past two games, Russell has scored a combined 39 points on 72.7 percent shooting. But Lakers coach Byron Scott has only described Russell’s play as “okay” because of Russell’s defense.
Kobe Bryant also had become irritated with it enough to both chew Russell out during a third-quarter timeout in Saturday’s loss in Portland and in the locker room afterwards. Although Bryant delivered a two-minute speech to the team after the loss, multiple sources said he singled Russell and second-year forward Julius Randle out by name.
That topic was not brought up on Monday night. But Russell generally spoke about playing in a large media market.
“Being a Laker is different,” Russell said. “You can play for any other team. You wouldn’t have to worry about what people say about you or any of that. Being in this franchise, the lights are always on. You have to watch what you say and you have to watch how you react.”
Russell has varied that approach. He can sound engaging and analytical. But amid the Lakers’ losses, he has also offered clipped answers and occasional annoyance at reporters’ questions. But Russell said he has kept his spirits high because of an inner circle he describes as “small,” which entails his dad, mom and brothers.
“We talk about everything and then it’s just about focusing on my craft,” Russell said. “I know how much work I put in. When I have rough night or we have a rough night as a team, we see and look over our shoulder and see the next guy working staying after practice or walking in the gym late night putting the same amount of work as you. You have to stay positive and stay focused to your craft.”