Inside Mitch’s Head: Why The Lakers Chose D’Angelo Russell


The Los Angeles Lakers decided to go small and select D’Angelo Russell from Ohio State University, but probably not for the reasons you might think. Jahlil Okafor from Duke University appeared to be the favorite and most fans were shocked by the pick initially, but after hearing the context which Mitch Kupchak used it validates his decision.

RELATED: Top 3 Wing Role Players Lakers Should Target in Free Agency

Many believe the Lakers caved under the pressure of a guard-heavy league in choosing Russell, but that’s far from the truth. Small ball is a fad in the NBA, but Kupchak’s comments about why he didn’t select Okafor were telling and make a strong case for Russell. Mitch essentially said when he looked up at the rafters in Staples Center at all the Laker big men with retired jerseys, he didn’t envision Okafor’s being up there after his career was over: condemning, yet truthful. The Lakers didn’t acquire Russell because he was the lesser of two evils, because the public didn’t witness Russell and Okafor’s second workout. Okafor was reportedly gassed, not as focused and exposed on the defensive end while Russell was put in 3-on-3 drills and surpassed expectations. Byron Scott may have said it best by stating,

“Okafor is going to be a good center in this league. I think D’Angelo has a chance to be a superstar.”

Scott has coached elite point guards in Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Jason Kidd, so Scott gave Russell the chance to go one-on-one with Paul after the Clippers got eliminated from the playoffs. The showdown went well enough to where Paul walked away impressed and Scott knew Russell was something special. In Scott’s coaching career, he’s only thrived with strong point guard play as an extension of his leadership. Russell may not start immediately, but he’ll be under the tutelage of Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant and possibly Steve Nash. It takes one to know one and since Scott puts Russell in the same category as the point guards mentioned above, he’ll have a promising career.

Ultimately there are intangibles that are defined as “star” qualities. Russell does not lack confidence, something you cannot teach (just ask Wesley Johnson). Court vision potentially on par with Magic Johnson. And the nickname “loading” which you can find on Russell’s social media accounts. It’s explained as a computer in loading mode: never finished, always learning. Kupchak and Scott both gushed about his natural gifts of leadership, basketball IQ and being a court general. Most point guards end up being combo guards in the league because of their shoot-first mentality. It’s rare to find a point guard who prefers setting teammates up, yet can still hit the open shot when needed. Comparisons to Stephen Curry seem a bit far-fetched, but the better model for him to mold his game after is fellow Buckeye, Mike Conley. Russell needs to run the offense with authority, find teammates for open baskets and control the tempo of the game. On a side note, D’Angelo Russell also looks the part. Decked out in his red suit and calm demeanor, he has a marketable brand that will thrive in the bright lights of L.A. Don’t think of the Lakers pick as passing on Okafor, but choosing to have faith in Russell. The Lakers didn’t decide to join the small ball revolution by selecting D’Angelo Russell, instead they chose the best player in the draft, who just happens to be a 6’5″ point guard.

Next: Lakers Draft: Kupchak Felt L.A. Couldn't Pass on Russell