Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell drives by Minnesota Timberwolves’ Tyus Jones during the first half of NBA summer league game in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
The Lakers’ consolation prize for another missed playoff appearance came in the form of drafting D’Angelo Russell. The 6-5, 195-pound guard out of Ohio State could both transform the Lakers into the modern NBA with a court vision and playmaking presence the organization has not seen since Magic Johnson.
Whether that becomes enough for Russell to bring back Showtime seems uncertain. But according to results on an NBA.com rookie survey, the majority of Russell’s class suggest that will not happen right away. At least not enough for Russell to win the NBA rookie of the year award.
A 41.9 percent plurality believe that honor will belong to Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor, the elite big man the Lakers passed up in favor of Russell. Other favored candidates ahead of Russell include Detroit’s Stanley Johnson (19.4 percent) and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (12.9 percent). Russell finished in a tie for fourth place, sharing a 9.7 percent vote with Denver guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
If these survey results prove correct, a debate could emerge on whether the Lakers should have selected Okafor. After all, most NBA talent evaluators consider Okafor the most offensively skilled big man despite his poor free throw shooting. Yet, Okafor’s expected dominance next season could partly trace to Philadelphia’s barren roster.
Meanwhile, Russell will have to adjust sharing ball handling duties with Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant (18.2 percent of rookies consider him their favorite player, behind Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant at 21.2 percent). After averaging 11.8 points on only 37.7-percent shooting and logging more turnovers (5.2) than assists (3.2) through five summer league games, Russell has also admitted he has to temper his decision making and pace.
Still, a 40 percent plurality voted Russell as the best playmaker in this year’s rookie class with Minnesota’s Tyus Jones (17.1 percent), Mudiay (14.3 percent) and Toronto’s Delon Wright (8.6 percent) following suit. For what it’s worth, Russell also finished third behind Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky for most funniest.
Whether Russell makes the Lakers smile will depend on if he matches expectations as a playmaker and proves his contemporaries wrong about his rookie of the year award prospects.
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