D'Angelo Russell is too slow.
D'Angelo Russell can't shoot.
D'Angelo Russell turns over the ball far too often.
D'Angelo Russell looks lost on the offense.
D'Angelo Russell is not going to pan out.
D'Angelo Russell is a bust.
This noise is what revolves around the Los Angeles Lakers on a daily basis. If it's not about Kobe Bryant's potential retirement or Byron Scott's questionable employment credentials, it's certainly about 2015's second overall pick.
But it's not without good reason.
It was never going to be easy for a 19-year-old point guard. Never, ever. He's still a teenager playing the most demanding position in the NBA during the league's most prolific era for point guards. Russell is commanding an offense that is questionable for this personnel to begin with, under the tutelage of a coaching staff who may not, in fact, be qualified enough to be teaching him in the first place. He's playing alongside two youngsters who have less than 60 games of experience between them and a fading star who is still trying to find his legs.
Still, it's alarming to see how little his pedigree shines through. In his first ten contests, Russell has shown flashes of what the Lakers saw before they took him second in last June's draft, but those have been momentary flashes in the most literal sense of the word. We've seen some nice passes thus far and some decent shooting performances, but overall, its been pretty hard to see just what the front office thought they would have in D'Angelo rather than other players like Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja. Disconcerting, it seems, is the most operative word here.
Though that word would be kind. Because fans are freaking out.
With every 20-10 game from Okafor or highlight-reel putback dunk from Porzingis, Lakers fans cringe at the thought that the second-overall pick could turn into a monumental bust. It's not that Russell looks bad now -- that much was to be expected. It's that whatever potential lies within his game has come out so infrequently. It's really no surprise that fans are alarmed, even with all the impediments in front of Russell. Even us even-handed writers over here at Silver Screen & Roll have had several panicked conversations amidst the rookie's slow start. It feels like the chatter has been justified, though "chatter" might not be the appropriate word here. The outcry has been, at times, deafening.
So deafening, in fact, that it's drowning out all the buzz Julius Randle should be getting.
In his first ten games of what is technically his second season, the 2014 seventh overall pick looks like he could be a star in this league. On the surface, the numbers are solid: 10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He's shooting just 42.9 percent overall, which isn't great, but he's also being given over 10 shots per game, a gigantic number for a guy with just a dozen professional contests under his belt.
We could pick apart Randle all day. He's by no means a finished product, with gigantic holes in his game and plenty of improvement to be had. In fact, our man Drew Garrison just analyzed just how effective Randle is in getting to the rim, but the fact that his right hand isn't developed is stunting his game.
However, unlike his rookie counterpart D'Angelo Russell, there aren't just flashes from Julius -- there are full on lightning storms.
The raw tools that Randle has shown in his extremely short NBA career have been astounding. Most apparent has to be his aggression and confidence. Randle isn't afraid to take the ball to the rack, as Drew noted, and while he's not finishing, it's impressive how he's able to weave through traffic and get in position to score. This is all a result of the big man's stunningly developed handle with the ball. Though Randle isn't quite as graceful as say, Lamar Odom, he can put the ball on the floor just as smoothly as any big man in the game. He's able to do this with bursts of speed and explosion, creating a tough matchup with any opposing big trying to guard him on the perimeter. Besides Larry Nance Jr., there probably isn't another Laker that can match Randle's athleticism.
The former Wildcat's shot definitely needs work, but the stroke looks smooth and quick and certainly doesn't look like anything that can't be fixed over time. He's probably better off taking it to the hoop at this point, or using his frame and surprisingly polished footwork in the post to set himself up to score. In short, Randle looks like he could he could be a true inside-outside threat, one that will only get more deadly with an improved jumper and a stronger base. While his early career comparison was Zach Randolph, a star in his own right, Randle has looked closer to Blake Griffin and the Grizzlies forward. That's how bright his raw tools are shining.
Rightly, the spotlight has been on D'Angelo Russell. The drama in the Lakers keeping their pick this past June, as well as the debate on who to select with the number two overall selection, has put an undue weight on the young point guard's shoulders. It makes our scrutiny of him all the more acute and our expectations that much higher. But even as we grow more and more uncomfortable in seeing mere moments of promise from Russell, it's a shame that we're not equally comforted by just how fantastic Randle may be. After just a dozen games, it looks like the Lakers could have a big star on hand. It just might not be the one people expected to light up first.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino