LAS VEGAS -- "It's bright," said Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard D'Angelo Russell after his professional debut. While he was referring to the television camera burning out his retina, Russell just as easily could have been talking about the future of a Lakers backcourt that hit some bumps in its debut. Fortunately, they also gave fans reason to believe Mitch Kupchak when he says Russell and Jordan Clarkson could man the guard spots for the Lakers over the next 10 years.
Russell felt firsthand just how badly Lakers fans want him to succeed on his very first free throws, when a raucous, almost playoff like crowd serenaded him with MVP chants at the line. The rookie mostly lived up to the hype in his debut, dropping six dimes to go with his eight points and five rebounds. D'Angelo wasn't perfect however. "I had a lot of mental mistakes, not paying attention to my guy, sleeping a little bit on defense, just little things that you can do in college that you can't do in the pros," he admitted while reflecting on his first outing. "At the end of the game, those add up."
For his part, Clarkson looked like the best player on the court for much of the third quarter, scoring nine of his 23 points in a barrage of dunks, crossovers, and acrobatic finishes. Despite the loss, Clarkson did say "it felt good" to be back on the floor with his teammates. "We're young, we definitely want to grow .... we're going to continue to progress, and continue to get better," Clarkson said. With how well he and Russell seemed to gel on the floor -- inches away from connecting on a transition alley-oop may have leveled the Thomas and Mack Center -- there's plenty of reason to believe the two will continue to grow together rather than growing apart.
"I think there were stretches where they looked very, very comfortable playing together and there was a lot of synergy," said Madsen. He also pointed out the team "turned the ball over too much," with Russell coughing up the ball five times in his debut. Madsen also mentioned that it was valuable for his young core to play against another team's best players to continue their development. "They are going to be great in the backcourt together."
More signs for hope in spite of a relatively meaningless loss? Russell looked comfortable initiating the Lakers' offense when he and Clarkson shared the floor, with Jordan more than capable of playing with a scorer's mentality as the secondary ball-handler.
"It's going to be fun, learning from him," Russell said of playing alongside Clarkson, "the sky is the limit." As long as the sun, stars, or a camera light that needs to be adjusted do not burn them first, the Lakers first game in Vegas gave reasons to believe in Russell's post game evaluation.