HONOLULU — The night started with D’Angelo Russell showing why the Lakers immediately fell in love with him as they watched his pre-draft workouts. Their prized No. 2 pick ran a pick-and-roll with Julius Randle. Russell threw Randle a crisp bounce pass. Randle found an open lane for an easy two-handed dunk.
“His vision is astronomical,” Kobe Bryant beamed. “There’s not too many passers that can make those type of passes.”
The night ended with the Lakers conceding much work remains before Russell develops into the franchise’s expected cornerstone. In the Lakers’ 90-71 preseason opening loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Stan Sheriff Center, Russell posted only five points on 2-of-8 shooting, three assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes.
“Rookie, 19 years old. That’s to be expected,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “I’ll expect in the next game he’ll play better.”
That next game takes place on Tuesday against the same opponent in the same venue. But in between his promising start and his rusty finish, Russell offered various glimpses of both his potential and learning curve.
Russell showed off his playmaking.
On fast-breaks, Russell set up Nick Young for an elbow jumper and Jordan Clarkson with a clear shot to the basket.
Russell showed off his scoring by running to the right place at the right time.
As Julius Randle faced a double team in the post, Russell cut inside. Randle found Russell without a defender on him and easily converted on a layup. On another play, Russell sprinted to the perimeter as Nick Young fielded an outlet pass. Instead of shooting the ball as he always does, Young connected with an open Russell, who swished his 3-point attempt.
“We didn’t look like that was our first time playing together,” Russell said. “We had some ups and downs. But there were a lot of great things to come out of that.”
There were bad things that came out of it, too.
Russell sank jumpers with deadly accuracy in pre-game warmups. But those same shots rimmed out once the game actually started. Russell threw off defenders by making passes they did not anticipate. But some of his teammates appeared just as unprepared.
“I have to look at film,” Russell said, “and see how I can be a better point guard for this team and keep leading guys.”
The film will show that Russell led with authority. He anticipated Bryant’s commanding presence and thirst for scoring would make him feel tentative. But as Bryant observed, “It didn’t seem that way to me.”
Bryant posted only five points on 1-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes. He manned the small forward position, played off the ball and mostly looked to set up open teammates. At the end of the first quarter, Bryant may have rebounded the ball, ran the offense in the last 24 seconds and ended the sequence with a series of pivots before missing a well-time fadeaway. But with exception to that play, Russell handled the ball and ran the offense as he saw fit.
“He did a great job in making you feel like you’re welcome,” Russell said of Bryant. “He’s used to it and he’s been around for a long time. He knows how to do that to rookies. You have to earn his respect. That’s something I’m trying to work on every day. I didn’t feel too nervous. The guys around me made me feel like a veteran out there.”
Russell also did not feel nervous about a bone bruise in his right foot that had limited him in Saturday’s practice. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti has supplied Russell with orthotics to minimize discomfort surrounding the blister in his right foot. Russell has also iced his right foot constantly.
“It was fine,” Russell said. “It didn’t bother me at all. I forgot about it once I was out there and my adrenaline was going.”
And once his adrenaline was going, Russell capped off his preseason debut offering both promise with his potential and uncertainty on how long it will take for it to fully develop.