With the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on New Year’s Day, it will mark the second time D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor go head-to-head.
At the 2015 NBA Draft, much of the conversation was about the Lakers either selecting Okafor or Kristaps Porzingis. However, in a surprising move, the storied franchise chose the point guard out of Ohio State to pair with Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
To start the 2015-16 NBA season, there were debates if the Lakers made the wrong decision considering Okafor’s play. With Russell recently getting comfortable with his role, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak believes the team made the right decision according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“Absolutely,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Los Angeles News Group. “We’re very happy. He’s going to be a really good player.”
In response, Russell feels he is the best player in his draft class, via Medina:
“That’s just confidence,” Russell told Los Angeles News Group. “I’m always going to feel that way with the work I put in.”
To start his rookie season, there was a lot of pressure on Russell considering how well Okafor and Porzingis were playing. However, since being moved to the bench by head coach Byron Scott, it has motivated Russell and he is averaging 11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists through 33 games.
While the comparisons will continue, it will take a couple more seasons before the Lakers can truly assess if they made the right decision. Despite the early season struggles, Russell has shown flashes of his potential and has made great strides in his rookie year.