Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell has dealt with his fair share of criticism from fans and media alike during his first NBA season. The 2015 second overall pick has averaged 11.8 points, 3.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 40.3% from the field and 32.3% on three pointers this season in 27.8 minutes per game. Russell has not been bad, and has even shown flashes of brilliance, but the 19-year old's level of play has not been high enough to satisfy some of his harshest critics or earn more playing time from his head coach.
Russell understands that is a natural part of the spotlight, and the young player seems to be taking the right attitude towards the negative evaluations. In a wide-ranging interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, Russell described how he is able to stay patient with his developmental process even while others are not:
Trudell: Because of how high you went in the draft, the expectations and the hope for what you can be, some folks have already judged you, despite how early it is and how young you are. That's not everybody, but still, have you felt like people want to see everything from Day 1?
Russell: Yeah, right away. But that's why I don't get caught up in social media (critiques). Right now, I don't really like doing interviews ... because I know that once I get comfortable with my team, my coaches and all that, the same problems I was having months ago, people are going to be like, ‘Dang, he's come a long way.' Because everywhere I've been, I've struggled first, but then made (success happen). At first when I got to Montverde, I was playing behind Mike Frazier*, and I felt like I was better than him. He's really good, but I had confidence, and after a while I was starting, and had blown up a little bit and people were looking to me like, ‘Lead us, man!' and I was thinking, ‘I'm 15 years old!' But my coach gave me the keys. Then I got to college, and struggled at the beginning of the year, but soon I got comfortable and took off. I never knew I'd be the No. 2 pick in the Draft, but it happened. Out here, I struggled in the beginning, started to find my way and it's up and down. But this is a whole different level. You're playing against grown men ... vets. Playing against Hall of Fame coaches that take away everything you do well. This is a whole different animal.
So I'd always rather be a late bloomer at anything I do. I don't want to be great right away. I love the process. I love when people say, ‘You suck! You're a bust!' I love that. Because whether it's months or years, whatever it takes, best believe they'll be thinking about those words they said a while ago.
At least Russell understands that there is nothing he can do to change fans' minds putting his head down and continue to improve. It was always folly to expect such a young player to come in and light the league on fire, and Russell has also had to deal with factors such as the Lakers' bigs not rolling to the rim consistently, a clogged, Kobe Bryant-centric offense, and his coach benching him for seemingly no reason at times. Even with all of these obstacles, Russell's averages still translate to 15.2 points, 4.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per-36 minutes, which are more than solid for a 19-year old rookie. He is going to be just fine.
If Russell does as he says and continues to focus on the process of improving, he is right that eventually the group of fans so ready to call him a bust will begin to quiet as his counting stats tick upward.
All stats per NBA.com