Last season D'Angelo Russell was one of the most heralded recruits in the nation, entering the 2014-15 season with a ton of hype resting on his shoulders. He didn't disappoint, either, as Russell would go on to become a consensus first-team All-American, win the Jerry West Award and bolt to the NBA where he would be selected with the second pick by the Lakers. While Ohio State could have had a more consistent season last year, their struggles were mainly based around the reality that they didn't have enough capable players surrounding Russell, who often had to do everything himself to help Ohio State win games last season.
Now that Russell's short collegiate career is over, he's ready to focus on the next level as there is always a mass amount of hype and pressure when you go as the second pick in the draft. Even more so when you're drafted by a team like the Lakers and will play along a player like Kobe Bryant, even if the NBA Legend is a few years past his prime. Either way, the Lakers are coming off of a historically awful season and the return of a healthier Bryant and a potential star in Russell has some people seeing the Lakers as improving quite a bit this season (even if they play in the absolutely loaded West conference).
The hype surrounding Russell helped him net a Sports Illustrated cover heading into the season this month:
Russell was the first Buckeye to be drafted in the first round since Jared Sullinger was selected by the Celtics in 2012 and the first lottery pick since Evan Turner went second in 2010. The Lakers will be hoping they can get a little more from Russell than most of the recent Buckeyes selected in the draft, with Russell being thrown into an interesting position in Los Angeles. On one hand the Lakers were really, really bad and Kobe Bryant is an oft injured, past his prime superstar. The end result is the Lakers aren't expected to be a playoff team, or a prominent threat in the west, even if their history would indicate they should be up towards the top of the conference (or at least be the top team in Los Angeles).
Either way, the Lakers have a young core of players that they should be able to develop into a solid core. Russell has the obvious potential to make an immediate impact, while having a healthy Julius Randle at forward will be a huge boost for the Lakers after the former Kentucky star broke his leg in his first game in 2014. Mix in players like Roy Hibbert, Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson and the reality is, even if the Lakers aren't good enough to sneak back into the playoffs, Russell will finally have some offensive weapons at his disposable. After spending a year being forced to do absolutely everything in Columbus, having some offensive pieces to take the pressure off should allow Russell to ease into his role as the teams starting point guard.
While it'll be interesting to see how all of the pieces gel together out west, especially with Russell playing with guys like Bryant and Young, both of which likely to hold onto the ball on numerous possessions, there is a realistic chance Russell will succeed quite a bit more than last season's Big Ten first round selections. That being said, the bar wasn't honestly set very high with none of the top picks making waves last season and a good number of them already being dumped by their original teams. The Big Ten has been one of the top conferences in college basketball the last several seasons, but it would be nice if the league could produce a more prominent star after last years class struggled mightily.
If Russell can recreate what he did in Columbus he should be in pretty solid shape. Besides averaging almost 20 points a night, Russell's ability to score inside and out will be key in the NBA, especially as the association becomes more and more of a shooter's league. Russell is a solid facilitator as well and can clean up on the glass when need be, bringing a well rounded and versatile game to the next level. If Kobe can actually stay healthy, the duo could form one of the more intriguing backcourts in the nation, or at least one of the more watchable. At the very least he finds himself in considerably better shape than Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, both of which have lower expectations from people around the league.
Anyway, Russell's NBA career will tip off in one week when the Lakers square off against the Timberwolves. Since the Big Ten season is still a few weeks off, the NBA should help ease the void of basketball until the collegiate season begins in 23 days.