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The second pick will be D'Angelo Russell's second banana

A pyrrhic debate rages on through Laker Nation as to who the team will pick with the second selection in the draft. But the truth? It doesn't matter. Because they already have a number one.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram? Which player is a better fit for the Los Angeles Lakers, mercifully still the owners of the second overall pick in this year's NBA draft? Who should they take?

The truth is, it doesn't matter. On many levels.

On one very obvious level, the Lakers have the pick made for them by the time the clock starts ticking for their selection: it's whoever's left out of the two. Regardless of fit or preference, LA will take the available player and be completely and totally satisfied with it. That's one of the silver linings of merely keeping the pick: just be thankful you have it. The debate is going to be settled for them.

But on a more realistic level, it won't matter who their new rookie is. Because whoever he is will be playing second fiddle to D'Angelo Russell.

In the last two and a half months of the season, Russell started to look more like the second pick of the draft and less like a 19-year-old point guard. He averaged 15/3/3 on a relatively decent .406/.388/.774 shooting line, all while taking nearly 13 shots a game in 30 plus minutes per game.

While those numbers--especially matched up against 2.4 turnovers per contest--certainly aren't great marks for an NBA point guard in 2016, they're sterling for a rookie. Double that when you consider that rookie is trying to manage an offense in the face of a coach with no particular offensive plan. Triple that when you consider he was easy pickings for any defense that knew Russell was one of the only other Lakers that could create any offense whatsoever. For the whole season, D'Angelo was like Leo in The Revenant except there were 15 bears and he had a sack of Legos instead of a gun. It wasn't a good situation.

Even more than his numbers, D'Angelo started to show more consistent spurts that he not only could be a good player, or even a great player, but rather, a superstar player. He unveiled a long-range touch that not only connected statistically, but aesthetically and mechanically and could be a weapon for years to come. With a quick release and a high arc coming from an already long player, Russell's jumper is sound in its construction.

With the ball, it's clear that D'Angelo is equal parts distributor and scorer, but his ability to handle the ball and create space, mixed with a quick release shot, make him a deadly threat in the making. In many ways, Russell reminds me of a nascent James Harden--a deceivingly good athlete with excellent body control and zero fear of taking any shot, anytime.

From a very, very early standpoint, Russell already looks like a player the Lakers could build around. Of course there are some very, very noticeable warts to his game (I'm not sure that he'll ever be more than a decent defender), but at age 20, all we're looking for are signs. Not consistency, not excellent, but just signals of what's the come. With guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, they were there from the jump. But for D'Angelo, we're merely prognosticating based on the skills that can be developed from the natural tools he's already got.

In the modern NBA, success has been largely predicated around shooting and spacing, pace and ball movement. The players that have led their teams to success have been those that serve as both the ignition keys on offense, as well as the finishers. Without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, is there any doubt that DeAndre Jordan would be a significantly less impactful player? Without LeBron James, Kryie Irving reverts back to a ball-stopping point guard. Without Stephen Curry, whose abilities make one question whether or not he'll finish the play or just start it, opposing defenses wouldn't be in a constant state of flux against the Warriors.

Straight off of his rookie year, D'Angelo Russell looks like he can be the player that can fulfill that role. And at the point guard position, in today's league, it's quite evident that the player pushing the pace up court is quite often the fulcrum of his team. But is his future teammate capable of performing in that same slot? I'm not sure yet.

Will Ben Simmons be able to finish on plays other than in the paint? Will he learn how to shoot? Does he care enough to get better?

Will Brandon Ingram be able to physically stand against the rigors of an 82-game season? Will his scoring prowess translate to the NBA level? Will he even be the one available at the number two slot?

The truth is, we don't know how good Ingram or Simmons will be. We don't know if they'll be able to make plays professionally, but with where the league is these days, it looks like D'Angelo is primed to be the primary player the Lakers are building around.

Not a bad debate to have. Even in their darkest era ever, the Lakers are dealing with problems that other teams would kill for.


--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino

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