SLAM Top 50: D’Angelo Russell, No. 49

Alright guys, let’s talk basketball. The conversation surrounding D’Angelo Russell is far too often clouded by Iggy Azalea drama. Welcome to Hollywood, I suppose.

But it’s time to give that a rest. Let’s talk about the 6-5, 20-year-old point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers who’s poised to take a major step forward. Let’s talk about No. 49 in the #SLAMTop50.

There were high expectations for the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. With Kobe on his last leg, was this the Lakers’ next stud? Was this the guy to turn things around? Was Russell their savior, their new hero?

Some were disappointed by Russell’s rookie campaign. Of course, he wasn’t the instant superstar Los Angeles has grown accustomed to having. For those with doubts about the former Buckeye’s future, I implore you to re-investigate the numbers, to re-watch some of the games where everything was clicking, to remember that the man has ice running through his veins.

On the season, D’Angelo averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28.2 minutes, while shooting 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. He ranked second in total points among rookies, third in total assists, second in total steals, and first in three-pointers made. Yet, it was the growth from Game 1 to Game 82 that was so eye-opening, and that should leave Western Conference teams in a panic.

Over the Lakers’ last 25 contests, Russell dropped at least 20 points nine different times. By comparison, over L.A.’s first 25 games, he achieved the same feat just twice. His two 30-plus scoring performances came in the last 25, including a 39-point outing against the Nets, in which he hit 8 threes.

The ball kept rolling this summer, with Russell putting on a show in the Las Vegas Summer League. In four games, he averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists and shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, leaving no doubt that he was a step ahead of the other young bloods in Vegas.

During the highly anticipated matchup between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, it was Russell who stole the spotlight. With 1.8 seconds remaining, and the Lakers down 69-67, Russell came off a Larry Nance screen, received the inbounds pass, and launched a trey from the parking lot.

The sound of the swoosh was magical, as was the post-game interview, in which a hyped up Russell told the world that he played like sh*t. Tell me this guy isn’t ready for the big stage.

Speaking with Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News just this past weekend, Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton praised Russell. “He wants to be great. He wants to win. And he wants to lead. That’s what I want out of a point guard,” he stated. A Laker who’s chasing greatness and Ws, now doesn’t that sound familiar?

If you dig deep, you’ll find it. It’s subtle and delicate, but it’s there. Buried beneath the sorrow of Kobe’s departure, there is hope in Los Angeles. And while Ingram has driven that hope to new heights, it’s Russell who’s the pioneer, the catalyst, the leader.

The Lakers will go as D’Angelo Russell goes. In January of this year, following a big scoring night, the guard told ESPN, “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet.”

If they ain’t, then we’re ready.

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

Follow the entire #SLAMTop50 countdown.