When D’Angelo Russell first worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers before the 2015 NBA Draft, he drew headlines for comparing his game to that of Stephen Curry.
Russell hasn’t quite lived up to that level of hype in his first two-years in the league, even if he has flashed a prodigious amount of sizzle on occasion, like when he led the Lakers in scoring with 28 points (to go with six rebounds and five assists) in their Sunday win over the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday.
The player comparison Russell was asked about on the broadcast after the Lakers’ win won’t get quite as many fans excited as his Curry one likely did, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at:
Russell said on @SpectrumSN that Conley "is one of the vets" he looks up to in the league.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) April 2, 2017
As John Ireland of Spectrum Sportsnet noted when asking Russell about the match-up, this comparison likely has a lot to do with Russell and Mike Conley both being left-handed lead guards to come out of Ohio State, and when looking at the numbers from each player’s second season, it actually might be selling Russell’s production short.
Russell played about two minutes less per game than Conley did, although he used about nine percent more of his team’s possessions while on the floor to more than make up for the slightly lower playing time, and it allowed his numbers to look bigger than Conley’s in a few departments:
Conley shot more efficiently than Russell and turned the ball over less, but Russell assisted and scored more than his fellow Buckeyes product.
Now, Conley didn’t start to truly shine until a few years into his career (and neither did Curry, for that matter), which should actually be a lesson for impatient fans hoping Russell would pop right away.
Russell has had a few bumps in the road, yes, but no one would’ve predicted Conley would eventually earn the biggest contract in NBA history just two years into his career.
The strides Russell is making as a professional also sound like they have him on the right track to reach his full potential with more consistency:
Walton credited "more consistency in [Russell's] professionalism" for his improved play on @SpectrumSN— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) April 2, 2017
While earlier this year Walton might have had to say something to Russell for him to flip the switch, now he does it on his own.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 2, 2017
All this isn’t to necessarily predict a Conley-like ascent for Russell, but such a jump into becoming one of the league’s best guards can’t be overruled either, and it sounds like Russell is looking up to the right types of players and building the right types of habits as he attempts to do so.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.