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D’Angelo Russell Is the King of Summer League

Getty Images
Getty Images

Given his propensity for airing other people’s dirty laundry, you might think Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell wouldn’t fit particularly well in Las Vegas — a place that takes pride in its privacy. But with two 2016 summer league games in the books, it’s already clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On Friday, Russell led the Lakers to an 85–65 victory over the Pelicans with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. As you’d hope for a no. 2 overall draft pick preparing to enter his second NBA season, Russell played like a man among boys:

But this was just an appetizer for Saturday’s showdown with the Sixers. Billed as a clash between the top two selections in this year’s draft, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and L.A.’s Brandon Ingram, Russell stole the show. Despite going just 8-of-20 from the field, he was the game’s leading scorer, with 22 points, and with 1.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers trailing 69–67, there was absolutely no doubt as to who would take the last shot:

Russell drilled a game-winning 3-pointer, bragged about the ice in his veins (as is his wont) and then submitted to a brutally honest postgame interview, in which he told J.A. Adande that he “played like shit.” It was mesmerizing. It was beautiful. It was Russell at his absolute finest.

Indeed, the Cult of D’Angelo is gaining steam, and Russell’s no. 1 fan might be new Lakers coach Luke Walton, who raved about the guard’s competitiveness after Saturday’s game. Of course, Russell enjoyed similar hype last July, but with Byron Scott now out of the picture, he should finally get a chance to become something more than Nate Robinson’s heir apparent as the greatest summer leaguer of all time. Russell showed glimmers of that upside last season, but the Kobe Bryant farewell tour took precedence over his development. This year, however, the Lakers have gone all in on their youth movement. What other choice do they have?

Russell’s ceiling remains unclear — he resembles a Rajon Rondo–Dion Waiters hybrid, which is the scariest thing I’ve ever typed — but his sheer watchability is through the roof. He plays with a flair and charisma that would have fit on the Showtime Lakers, and it’s easy to see why Walton is excited to work with him. Coming from a stint as an assistant with the Warriors, Walton knows a thing or two about working with elite point guards. Russell’s talent is tantalizing.

All of which is to say: Los Angeles plays Golden State on Monday night in summer league (10:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV). You don’t want to miss it.