Amid a season full of losses and fluctuating roles, Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell and second-year guard Jordan Clarkson will soon experience something to celebrate.
Both will participate in the Rising Stars Challenge on Feb 12 in Toronto as part of NBA All-Star weekend, a game that will feature 10 American rookie and sophomore players competing against 10 foreign rookies and sophomore players.
Russell and Clarkson reacted in similar ways.
Russell jokingly asked if he has to go before gushing about the stage.
“Some people will be competitive and some people won’t be,” Russell said. “I know I’m going to be competitive and try to win.”
Clarkson called his appearance “cool,” “awesome” and “humbling” before stressing he is “not here for the awards.”
“I have the ability to be an All-Star caliber player one day,” Clarkson said. “I’m definitely working toward that.”
Both Clarkson, Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott sounded surprised Lakers second-year forward Julius Randle did not make the cut. Rnadle has recorded a team-leading 16 double doubles and ranks first among his class in both that category and total rebounds (431) .
“He’s almost averaging a double-double,” Scott said of Randle, who was sent to a doctor on Wednesday because of a sore left leg. “So I don’t know what else it is, that he had to do.”
It may not have helped Randle played only one game his rookie season before suffering a season-ending right knee injury. Regardless, Russell suspected that snub will “definitely” motivate Randle.
The U.S. team will include Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel of the Philadelphia 76ers, Rodney Hood of the Utah Jazz, Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics, Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic and Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks. Russell and Clarkson became the eighth and ninth Lakers elected to the game, joining Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Travis Knight, Eddie Jones, and Nick Van Exel.
The World team will include Andrew Wiggins of the Timberwolves, Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks, Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks, Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets, Mario Hezonja of the Magic, Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay of the Denver Nuggets, Bojan Bogdanovic of the Brooklyn Nets, Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls and Raul Neto of the Jazz.
Clarkson could have played for the World team, but he said the NBA decided otherwise.
“I definitely wanted to rep the Philippines,” Clarkson said. “But it was their decision on what side I would be on.”
Russell sounded most exciting about playing with Towns, whom remain close friends after having a friendly high school rivalry.
“It would be great. I never had the opportunity to play with him,” Russell said of Towns. “That’s my boy. He’s tearing the league up.”
Russell did not speak about his play in such laudatory terms.
Despite averaging 14.65 points on 47.37 percent shooting in the past eight games, Russell has averaged only 3.1 assists during that stretch. Russell narrowed in on his 2.87 turnovers during that sample size that he blamed on being “too nonchalant.”
“It’s not like the teams forcing me into the turnovers,” Russell said. “It’s my turnovers.”
Clarkson sounded more complimentary about Russell, whom the Lakers selected with the 2nd overall pick.
“He’s progressed well and coming along,” Clarkson said. “He’s come fast too, especially with decision making. He can score the ball. It’s tough when you have the reigns in college and you have to come and play here with some guys. I think he’s adjusted real well to that. He has to continue to keep getting better.
Meanwhile, Clarkson has gotten better after making the NBA’s All-Rookie First team last year as the Lakers’ 46th overall pick. He has scored in double figures in 24 of the past 25 games despite having diminished ball-handling duties.
“I’m coming here to hoop and play. I just want to be good,” Clarkson said. “I just want to be great one day. That’s all I work for. I don’t work for no awards. The biggest award I want is a championship one day.”
The Lakers (9-38) are far removed from that goal, entering Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bulls (25-19) at Staple Center with the NBA’s second-worst record. But both Russell and Clarkson saw their latest nod as the first early sign of hope.
Said Russell: “We have to be here to make it happen. We’ll just keep working every day and let the game speak for itself.”
Said Clarkson: “It shows we have a bright future coming along with me and DLo.”