Though their record doesn’t show it right now, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have a bright future ahead of them. Even before thinking about the possibilities for the upcoming off-season, the team has a number of promising first and second-year players on its roster right now.
In the NBA, however, with very few exceptions, you can’t win without a superstar player. The NBA’s top teams today are all led by superstar players like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard and the Lakers will not be able to compete with the elites of the league until they find that player.
The Lakers do have multiple players with serious potential, some with more of a pedigree than others. D’Angelo Russell carries himself like a star and, as the second overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, probably has the most pressure on him to become that player. Likewise, Julius Randle was a lottery pick in 2014 and while he has been up and down this season, has shown a fire and motor to keep fans excited about his vast potential.
Jordan Clarkson has been the most consistent player, but as the most experienced of the bunch that is to be expected. Some have wondered, however, if the 2014 second-round pick can take his game to another level. Some of those same questions have been asked about rookie Larry Nance Jr., who has been the biggest surprise this season. But his athleticism and high basketball IQ have been apparent and he still has plenty of room to grow as well.
With so much promising talent, we asked our panel of experts which young Lakers player they believe has the most superstar potential. This is what they had to say:
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): In all honesty, I haven’t seen “superstar potential” in any of the team’s young players yet. There’s no question the Lakers have some promising young talent, but I don’t yet see any player that can fill the shoes of Kobe Bryant in the superstar role in the near future.
However, if I have to pick one of the four players mentioned, I’d have to go with D’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State product may not be flourishing as quickly as other prominent rookies like Kristaps Porzingis or Karl-Anthony Towns, but he’s gradually turning the corner.
Russell also seems to have the leadership qualities that may ultimately result in being a star in Los Angeles. D’Angelo isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and his confidence is improving with every passing game. He’s got the tools to take it to the next level, but whether he does remains to be seen.
Russell has the unique talent of potentially being the best distributor on the team as well as the best scorer. If the Lakers are unable to land Kevin Durant in free agency in the off-season, I believe the team will lean heavily on Russell to be the undisputed leader of this team. Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson have shown flashes of brilliance on the basketball floor, but D’Angelo could be something special.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): The future is bright in Los Angeles, and all three young players have shown superstar potential in their young careers. Personally, I think D’Angelo Russell has the highest ceiling of the three, especially since he is performing at a high level at just 19 years of age.
I was not a fan of the Lakers drafting Russell over Jahlil Okafor, but when I watch Russell play he passes all facets of the eye test. Russell’s vision is unmatched by any rookie and most point guards, yet he also has the ability to become one of the premier ball-handlers in the league. Russell’s height and length give him a distinct advantage when handling the ball and once he finds an identity he will be one of the hardest players to stop in the NBA.
This, however, is not a knock on Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle. Both players do have superstar potential, but Russell just seems to have a higher ceiling than the two. I love watching Clarkson sift his way through tight defenses and Randle’s hustle and energy on the court is his most promising asset. They will both be fantastic players in this league, whether they play for the Lakers or another team, but Russell seems to be a lock to be a superstar for the Lakers for many years to come.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): Without question D’Angelo Russell has shown the most superstar potential this season. Jordan Clarkson is an excellent player, and his ability to get into the lane coupled with his improved shooting from beyond the arc has me hopeful for a great career.
Similarly, Julius Randle does some amazing things, with a quick first step and incredible rebound rate. Even the often overlooked Larry Nance Jr. has tons of potential thanks to his athleticism and quick feet.
However, Russell’s court vision and scoring ability cause him to rise above the rest. While he still has occasional miscues, his passing out of the pick and roll is fantastic. D’Angelo puts the pocket pass on the money, and the velocity he puts on the ball allows him to zip it through tight spaces.
As a scorer he is learning to pick his spots, with the 15-foot jumper and three point shot quickly becoming his deadliest weapons. While his accuracy can still be a bit shaky from deep, it appears as though the shot is coming easier to him than it did at the beginning of the season, and his release is getting quicker.
We are also seeing a competitive fire from Russell, as well as the confidence to someday lead the team. He still has a long way to go, but based on what we have seen so far D’Angelo Russell is the most likely to become a superstar out of the Lakers’ talented young core.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): What has been most intriguing about this group is that they’ve each been impressive, but in very different ways over the first half of the season.
Jordan Clarkson is averaging 15.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists and has drawn early comparisons to Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis. While he still has a ways to go on both sides of the ball, the former 46th pick has improved as a three-point shooter (33.1 percent from deep) and at least gives a more consistent and focused effort on the defensive end this season.
Larry Nance Jr. has been a very nice development as the versatile forward has earned at least a temporary starting position due to his constant effort and energy when on the floor. He attacks the glass on both ends and is more than happy to fill a lane in transition. Although he’s not the most talented, he’s possibly the most polished of the rookies at least in some part as a result of playing all four years at Wyoming prior to joining these Lakers.
Randle’s offensive game may have hit a bit of a wall now that the rest of the league has adjusted to the things he prefers to do, but knowing how hard he works on improving on a daily basis, it’s only a matter of time until he is comfortable enough with his countermoves to still be effective when defenses shade him toward the right or continue to invite him to shoot the jumper.
Even though there were those that questioned the organization’s decision to select D’Angelo Russell with the second pick in the 2015 Draft until as recently as a few weeks ago, I still think the 19-year-old has the greatest potential to be a superstar. Not only has he shown plenty of moments and signs that stardom could very well be in his future, it probably says a great deal about his resolve that he’s been able to endure all the scrutiny and uncertainty about his role and place in the rotation over his first 40 games of the year.
I think each of these guys has room to improve and several have a chance at being stars at this level, but still believe Russell is probably your safest bet at becoming a superstar once each has a few years to continue develop.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): Although Jordan Clarkson has been more consistent in his slightly larger sample size in the NBA, I still believe 19-year-old D’Angelo Russell has shown more glimpses of superstar potential this season. Not a knock against Clarkson at all, but after having a slow start to begin his rookie season, Russell is finally starting to show his playmaking assets that Lakers fans have been waiting to see since draft day.
From his incredible vision and passing ability that allows him to drop pocket passes to no-look behind the back passes in sync, to being able to come off a pick-and-roll and shoot both outside and mid-range jumpers in rhythm, Russell has made the early doubters of him being a “bust” slowly into believers.
Even though we’re starting seeing these spurts of his potential already starting to mount, I think his career night, where he scored 27 points against the Sacramento Kings is where he showed his superstar potential and what’s to come in the near future of Los Angeles.
Here we saw a confident Russell who wasn’t afraid to have the ball in his hands and take over the game. Besides the three-pointers he made and the swagger he had following a big bucket, my favorite part about him that game was when he said “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet” after the game. This type of confidence is needed in a young player, especially one who has a chip on his shoulder being the No. 2 overall pick, and that’s what I’ve seen this season from the 19-year-old that’ll make him a force to be reckoned with in this league.