Realistic Expectations for D'Angelo Russell's Rookie Season with the L.A. Lakers

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2015

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 25:  D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, talks to the media during the 2015 NBA Draft on June 25, 2015 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Jon Lopez/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Lakers shook up the 2015 NBA draft lottery by selecting Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell at No. 2, and now they hope to send shock waves around the Western Conference with their new prodigy.

In an era that increasingly values playmakers and backcourt versatility, the one-and-done Buckeye is this year's shiniest point guard prize by far.

Russell wasn't viewed as a top-five draft prospect to begin his freshman year. However, the 6'5" savant quickly displayed his lofty pro potential and torched opponents with his poise and smooth skills.

General manager Mitch Kupchak picked him second overall in hopes of him growing into a full-fledged star. If he blossoms as expected, he'll take the torch from Kobe Bryant and team up with Jordan Clarkson in a dynamic, interchangeable backcourt.

In the meantime, what can we expect from him as a rookie?

Dec 30, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard D'Angelo Russell (0) is defended by Iowa Hawkeyes guard Peter Jok (3) during the second half of the Hawkeyes 71-65 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maior
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Russell is gifted beyond the vast majority of one-and-done guards in recent years, boasting an exceptional blend of quarterbacking instincts and perimeter scoring.

It's not often you see teenagers piling up 20 points and five assists per game against top competition, but that's exactly what he did against Big Ten foes last year. He also shot 40 percent from distance in conference play.

One of the main reasons he excelled in college and will make an immediate imprint on the Lakers is his vision. Even though it may take a few games to adjust to the speed of the NBA, Russell's hawk-like eyes will help him find opportunities.

"He’s just one of those guys where the game comes very easy to him," one NBA scout told Grantland.com's Ryen Russillo. "(He) sees things. One of the best passers we have seen in college basketball in a long, long time. There are plays where he sees two passes ahead."

Zach Harper of CBSSports.com also notes Russell's elite knack for manipulating opponents in the pick-and-roll:

Watch Russell in the pick-and-roll and you notice a comfort we see with guards like Chris PaulStephen Curry and James Hardenlead guards with great patience in how they attack and wait for the defense to make a mistake in their coverages. There were few players in college basketball who were more lethal in pick-and-roll scoring situations this past year than Russell.

The point is that Russell's acumen as a creator and facilitator will translate pretty smoothly. He won't be the most explosive slasher, but he's shifty and long enough to find creases and make plays in Byron Scott's Horns, Triangle and Princeton sets.

Russell's shooting will also yield immediate production. He's demonstrated the capacity to bury triples off the catch or dribble, so he'll be dangerous for L.A. whether he's playing on or off the ball. Don't expect him to shoot 41 percent like he did from the college line, but he should hit 35-37 percent and remain a threat to catch fire on any given night.

While these traits are exciting to think about, how exactly will they manifest themselves in Tinseltown during year one?

Before we crown him Rookie of the Year and lavish him with hero worship, let's account for his limitations and how he'll fit on the 2015-16 Lakers.

Although Russell's skills outclass most teenage guards, he's still a slender youngster who must learn to adapt to the athleticism of the Association. Russell's not a top-shelf leaper or speedster, so in certain matchups, he won't be able to score at will.

His acclimation on the other end of the floor will be trickier. Russell was not a standout stopper for the Buckeyes last year, as he frequently struggled to keep his man in front of him. Experience and Scott's tutelage could eventually improve this deficiency, but don't expect him to consistently corral slashers as a rookie.

Fortunately, his offensive value and development are so important that his defense shouldn't affect his playing time.

Mel Evans/Associated Press

The Lakers probably won't slowly ease him into his NBA career like they did with Clarkson last year.

Russell will likely be the club's primary facilitator, and Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal notes that he should have a prominent role from day one:

"Russell should be an immediate starter for the Lakers, teaming up with Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson to form a three-headed guard monster that can help the Purple and Gold achieve far more success than it has in the last few years...he's ready to function as a primary distributor for a professional squad."

While he'll enjoy a substantial role and execute the lion's share of passing duties, both Bryant and Clarkson will spend hefty chunks of time as initiators and creators. They'll require a large percentage of touches, so Russell won't rack up seven or eight assists per night. Between four and six assists is much more realistic.

In the scoring department, Russell's output could be dramatically affected by who the Lakers land in free agency or trades. But even if they don't acquire a star-studded big man like LaMarcus Aldridge, the rookie will be among the second tier of contributors behind Kobe.

Julius Randle, LA's No. 7 overall pick in 2014, is returning from a broken tibia. It's important to note that the Lakers will be running a sizable portion of their interior attack through him.

Randle, Clarkson and veteran gunslinger Nick Young are all important mouths to feedeven if Russell hoists the same amount of shots or more, it's a stretch to think he'll take more than 12 field-goal attempts per game.

As such, Russell's rookie numbers will be solid but not astounding. He'll produce something in the neighborhood of 15-16 points, five assists and four rebounds if he plays more than 30 minutes per game.

Those stats aren't staggering, but they'll lay a superb foundation for his long-term success. And they're still good enough to land him on the All-Rookie First Team and launch him into legitimate contention for Rookie of the Year.

Russell may not enjoy a Kyrie Irving/Damian Lillard-esque inaugural season, but he'll give Lakers fans a bundle of reasons to be excited about the future.

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