As D’Angelo Russell transitions into a more prominent leadership role for the Los Angeles Lakers, he will do so with the full faith and support of the retired Kobe Bryant.
From ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes:
When asked who he has spoken to about leadership, Lakers second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell told the ESPN game crew, “I talked to Kobe [Bryant] yesterday, just letting him know I was ready. He told me I looked ready. Coming from him that was great to hear going into opening night.” (Via ESPN’s Larry Starks)
Indeed, that is a pretty awesome thing to hear from your predecessor, your former teammate, on opening night. And it showed. Russell picked up right where he left off during the preseason in the Lakers’ victory over the Houston Rockets. He pumped in 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting (4-of-10 from three) to go along with three assists, a steal and an awesome Vine:
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) October 27, 2016
There is still, to be sure, a long way for Russell to go. That was clear during the preseason, and it’s clear now. He doesn’t always take the right shot or make the right pass, and he often develops tunnel vision at times when he puts the ball on the floor. If he’s to be the full-time point guard, he’ll need to polish and perfect his playmaking; even if the big-picture plan is to make him more of an off-ball 2-guard, the Lakers will still want him to better use his vision, which has so often been compared to Manu Ginobili’s.
It’s nevertheless hard not to be excited for this new version of Russell. He is confident to the point of cocky and relentless to the brink of restless, but there’s a clear difference in how he carries himself this season. Coaches and teammates have lauded his leadership, and he’s playing more freely now that Byron Scott isn’t on the sidelines to punish him for every mistake.
We’ll see if this version of Russell, much like the Lakers’ undefeated record, fades in time. But as of now, with the caveat that there’s still work to be done, it looks like Los Angeles has found Kobe’s heir apparent—one whom the Mamba himself has even accepted.