D'Angelo Russell: How the pressure continues to build

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When D'Angelo Russell was selected with the second overall pick at the 2015 NBA draft, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Many analysts couldn't believe the Lakers would pass on big man Jahlil Okafor, but they believed they had found the type of personality that could lead the franchise for the next decade and beyond.

On November 29, 2015, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball. Amongst the many ovations and heartfelt tributes, the pressure was cranking up on Russell ever so slightly.

He was the man the organisation had brought in to fill Kobe's illustrious shoes one day, and that day was beckoning.

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The first season wasn't what many had hoped. While Karl-Anthony Towns had one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the game, just one pick behind him, Russell was struggling to get off the Lakers bench.

Then-coach Byron Scott let his rookie guard feel his cold shoulder on more than one occasion as question marks around the Ohio State product's maturity came to the fore.

Scott had presided over the growth of Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving - two of the greatest point guards in the league today - and he believed Russell had a long way to go.

But there was also flashes of brilliance. In December against the Atlanta Hawks he recorded his first double-double and then in March, he dropped a career-high 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets, which included eight three-pointers.

That was the most by a Lakers rookie - including Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson - since Elgin Baylor recorded 55 points back in 1959.

But then, the 20-year-old gave all of his brooding critics the ammunition they all wanted.

A video, recorded by Russell, was leaked showing teammate Nick Young talking about cheating on his partner, Iggy Azalea.

That did some pretty heavy damage. Russell was said to be isolated in the Purple and Gold locker room and his teammates no longer trusted him.

Only four months later has Young seemingly forgiven Russell, but, according to reports, Swaggy P's time in L.A. is drawing to a close regardless.

And therein lies Russell's great pressure once more: the Lakers brass have chosen Russell over Young.

The Lakers No.1 must prove he is worth every bit of the organisation's patience and he has to show his true worth in the coming campaigns. With Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson around him, there is more than enough talent to flourish. And make no mistake, Russell is one talented boy.

One man who has seen a development in Russell's game over the summer is the man's shoes he is waiting to fill - Kobe Bryant.

“There’s certain things that he (Russell) has really picked up on, like his body positioning, using his size, being able to get to places," Kobe said. "He’s recognizing defensive packages, figuring out where to place guys on the floor. He’s developed very nicely over the summer.”

Time is of the essence, and the Lakers are not built to contend immediately. In line with that thinking, Russell isn't expected to be an All-Star or an MVP in the near future either, but there's little denying the franchise hope that their young star's progression runs parrallel with theirs.

Julius Randle
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
D'Angelo Russell
Kobe Bryant

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