Before being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, D’Angelo Russell drew some comparisons to the great Penny Hardaway – both because of his size and hybrid guard style of play. Come to find out that Hardaway and Russell actually have a tiny bit of history, as Penny coached against the young point guard in AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball, several years back.
Russell’s team, the Louisville Magic, knocked out Hardaway’s team, Team Penny, in the final four, before going on to win the championship. It was there that Hardaway got his first real look at Russell’s skill and he left quite an impression.
“I knew that he was special a long time ago,” Hardaway said of Russell at the Harold & Carole Pump Foundation. “I think that he’s definitely going to grow into his shoes. I think it was big shoes coming out after one year (of college), coming to a forum, a stage like this, especially behind Kobe and what he had did for the organization. There’s always going to be high hopes for younger guys coming in to fill those shoes, and fair or unfair he has that handed to him, so I think he’s going to be okay later on.”
Speaking of the younger generation of players, a time where the ‘one-and-done’ has become the norm and player salaries have absolutely skyrocketed to outrageous levels after the new TV deal, Hardaway touched on the all too common displays of entitlement as the game continues to get younger and pockets continue to grow.
“I think a lot of the younger guys now, they’ve come out and they have that entitled mentality that a lot of guys that coached them allowed them to do things the wrong way, and I think as they got older they needed to be fixed, so it’s not that same hunger,” Hardaway said of how players have changed today. “I’m not talking negatively about the young guys but it’s not the same work ethic that I saw when I was growing up from the older guys. With all the money being thrown around it’s going to be interesting to see if these guys have the same goals as they had before they got to the NBA.”
As for the Hardaway-Russell comparison, Penny’s per-36 minutes averages were 15.7 points, 6.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals after his rookie campaign. But, the four-time NBA All Star also came into the league when he was 22 years old (as opposed to 19), and started every game alongside Shaquille O’Neal. Russell finished with comparable per-36 averages of 16.8 points, 4.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals, without one of the most dominant big men in NBA history.
Despite the numbers, from what Hardaway’s seen of the now 20-year old, he’d still like to see Russell expanding his skills as a scorer.
“I think his playmaking ability is already there,” Hardaway responded when asked about what he’d like to see Russell work on this summer. “I think scoring. He needs to go ahead and score a little bit more. Not selfish, because I wasn’t a selfish player, but he has to learn how to mix it up.”
Russell certainly amped up his scoring at NBA Summer League, averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game over four contests. With new head coach Luke Walton in town, Russell’s skill set will only continue to expand. Walton has been praised by his ability to relate to and get the best out of young players. With one of the youngest rosters on the West Coast, that’s exactly what this Lakers team will need.