The Los Angeles Lakers promise to be much more competitive under new head coach Luke Walton this upcoming season.
Not only is he an upgrade over Byron Scott, the Lakers have made the necessary moves to field a better team than the franchise-worst version of the squad we saw last season.
While it won’t be enough to compete for a playoff spot, the additions of Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Jose Calderon gives an otherwise young squad veteran experience. Add in rookie No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram, and there’s a nice blend of talent here.
Though, the face of the franchise following Kobe Bryant’s retirement has to be last year’s second pick, D’Angelo Russell.
Despite an up and down rookie campaign that was marred by a major off-court controversy, Russell has shown that he has the talent to be an elite-level point guard.
For his part, Walton isn’t shying away from throwing some major praise Russell’s way.
“D’Angelo’s been great since I’ve been down here,” the rookie head coach said, via the Orange County Register. “He’s been in the gym at least every day, sometimes twice a day. He comes back at night.”
Walton also indicated just how important it is for Russell to remain at the top of his game.
“Being a point guard,” he said. “Guidance in being a point guard. Not just getting thrown out there, saying, ‘Run this team.’ Just the guidance. I feel the guidance is there.”
It’s going to be incredibly important for Russell to take control of the team in his second year, something we didn’t necessarily see last season.
The former Ohio State standout averaged 13.2 points and just 3.3 assists while shooting 41 percent from the field as a rookie.
No one is expecting Stephen Curry-like numbers under Walton, but the youngster will have to do a better job distributing the ball.
The good news here is that he did shoot at a 35 percent clip from the field, an indication that Russell will be able to expand his offensive game in 2016-17.