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Nardone: D’Angelo Russell poised for breakout season

Los Angeles Lakers' D'Angelo Russell stands on the court during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Sometimes we are quick to forget. Other times, very often actually, we are even quicker to remember all over again. This is where we currently find ourselves when discussing Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, at least in terms relative to his potential star status.

Last season, his rookie campaign, was a subjective disaster. Not that he didn’t show glimpses of brilliance or anything, but because of some situations outside of his control — and others very much in it — Russell became lost in the young-star-hyperbolic discussion.

As the NBA community turned to Karl-Anthony Towns for all things fun related, the guard was relegated to being Byron Scott’s weekly punching bag, playing alongside an aging poorly Jelly Bean Jr., while culminating his rookie voyage with a little cell phone scandal to top off his oddly built first year in the NBA cake.

This is what an NBA cake looks like, fwiw. Well, at least his.

This is what an NBA cake looks like, fwiw. Well, at least his.

Two of those things, Scott and Kobe Bryant, are gone the way of the dinosaurs. No longer creeping around the corner to hinder his development, it can be argued that Russell’s rookie season was a wash, and this upcoming endeavor will be his first “real” NBA journey.

Putting those semantics to the side, Russell still has to trot about the climate of 24/7 sports coverage as the guy who broke some code about not breaking up a teammate with an iffy pop star. In fact, he will probably never outrun being “that guy” — or, you know, the guy who gave Nick Young a reason to be relevant in basketball discussions (kind of) again.

That can be true, but so too can the fact be the same as it always was, but was largely ignored last year for the more exciting and entertaining Russell related anecdotes: D’Angelo Russell is skilled enough to be a legitimate NBA star, and he’s already poised to make huge leaps and bounds to get to that place in only his second year applying his trade for money.

We have been reminded of this as of late. Dating back to his tremendous Summer League showing, and currently being presented to us in preseason form, Russell is doing the things on the hardwood everyone projected out of him when he was coming out of Ohio State.

He’s smooth with the rock, hitting jumpers fairly regularly, creating offense for himself and others, and is just generally looking like a player of sincere consequence.

Obviously, it is worth noting that the Summer League and preseason games aren’t real. They’re essentially the Whose Line Is It Anyway of the NBA. But we shouldn’t completely discredit what appears to be a growth and development from his aspect merely because the games don’t count. After all, evidence is evidence, even if it is in the dark recesses of the NBA landscape.

I remain the KING of Micro Paint, imho.

I remain the KING of Micro Paint, imho.

There’s slightly more to the idea of Russell (re)breaking out this season. Gone is Scott, who ran such an antiquated team last year that I believe he opened up a vintage shop down by main street, and in is Luke Walton, who is likely bringing with him parts of the Golden State offense.

That is an offense Russell can likely excel in. Sure, he’s not going to hit from beyond the arc with the same efficiency as Stephen Curry, but no one is doing that. But it is that more free-flowing offense, one which won’t be — and this is important — muddled by a human-ball-stopper like Jelly Bean Jr., which can allow Russell to begin his growth on offense in earnest.

He will finally get a chance to play in a modern NBA system. While that shouldn’t automatically equate to “Russell is going to be gnarly” projections, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Furthermore, it can be argued that Scott’s system put the guard in a position to fail last season. So, even if only because of that, Russell is going to be better simply by happenstance.

Admittedly, most of this is narrative-driven ideas. Until he shows more on the hardwood that would lend credence to the idea that Scott and Kobe hurt him drastically during his rookie season, our only proof is in meaningless games, some flashes from his rookie year, and the expectations that being a few months removed from an iffy situation will help him grow.

Nevertheless, the Lakers are often talked about hand-in-hand with Hollywood. It has been years since the team has had a star…who also happened to be really good at basketball. Even though Los Angeles is unlikely to very good this season, the team’s fan base should rest easy knowing, at least in theory, they are about to witness the birth of their newest star.

Preseason basketball, man — the land of blind hope!

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