LOS ANGELES -- D'Angelo Russell made his Staples Center debut Sunday, and the Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard sure made an impression.
The second overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft dished out numerous crisp, on-the-money passes, displaying the excellent court vision that has inspired comparisons to Magic Johnson from Lakers coach Byron Scott and prompted Kobe Bryant to call Russell one of the “best playmakers in the game.”
Russell finished with 11 assists in 18 minutes off the bench in the Lakers’ 126-83 rout of Maccabi Haifa, marking the Lakers’ first win of the preseason and Russell’s first game back after missing the team’s previous game with a bruised glute.
While the Lakers were playing non-NBA competition, Russell nonetheless looked sharp and confident -- as did his passes -- and markedly better than in his shaky preseason debut last Sunday against the Utah Jazz in Honolulu: five points on 2-for-8 shooting, three rebounds, three assists and two turnovers.
“When I get the ball, I like to pass,” Russell said after Sunday’s game. “So if a guy knows me, he’s going to be running, running, running just to get an easy bucket or get to the foul line to get himself going.
"If you’re open, I’m going to get it to you. Half the time, you won’t know you’re open.”
Lakers center Roy Hibbert lavished the guard with praise.
“I told him, ‘He’s shooting for Rookie of the Year,'” Hibbert said. “He should be, but he’s very modest.”
Said Lakers forward Julius Randle: “That’s what he does. He gets everybody involved and makes the game easier for everybody.”
After starting in prior preseason games, Russell came off the bench Sunday and spent most of his time playing with backups -- not that he complained.
“I’ve never been blessed to play with great shooters around me,” Russell said. “I feel like whatever lineup I’m in, I’m going to make the best out of it.”
But now comes an early test.
This coming weekend, the Lakers face Golden State, meaning a chance to see sharp-shooting guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in action. Next week, the Portland Trail Blazers and their star guard, Damian Lillard, come to Staples Center before the Lakers close out their preseason with a rematch against the Warriors.
In all, the upcoming gauntlet of teams featuring top-tier guards is just a sampling of what Russell will face during the regular season.
“I look at it more as Lakers versus Kings [or] Lakers versus Warriors instead of me versus that guy,” Russell said. “I’m a rookie in this league. That first go-around of playing against certain guys, you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some.”
Still, it offers Russell an early opportunity to measure himself against those guards, which he is, of course, looking forward to.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said.
He just hopes to avoid being star-struck.
“That first go-around ... you can’t go in as a fan, like, ‘It’s Steph Curry, oh my God,’” Russell said. “You’ve got to go in like: ‘I’m playing against this dude. Let’s get this team win.’”
This is the second part in a series on how league insiders view the Lakers' rebuild. Read the first part here.
As the Los Angeles Lakers take the court at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Stan Sheriff Center for a preseason game against the Utah Jazz, Anthony Gonzales, 33, is up against the metal gate, wearing a black No. 24 Kobe Bryant jersey. Gonzales lives in Maui, but he became a fan growing up in Garden Grove, in Orange County, thanks to his father.
"My earliest memory," Gonzales says, "was the '88 title game and watching it with my dad."
He's been a die-hard ever since. Standing beside him now is his son, Kobe-J Gonzales, 10, in a gold Lakers hat and purple No. 24 jersey, holding a white sign with block text. "KOBE," it reads, "I was named after you."
Despite back-to-back losing seasons for the Lakers, the Gonzales family hasn't lost hope.
"We're going in the right direction with these young players," Gonzales says, referring to recent draft picks D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. "Hopefully we can get a big-name free agent this summer to lead all of them. Just a matter of time."
Julius Randle has averaged 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and three assists over the past three preseason games.
"I told him every time he gets a defensive rebound, I want him to push it," Scott said Sunday following his team's 126-83 preseason win over Maccabi Haifa at Staples Center here.
It's not typical for a 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward to have the green light to initiate fast breaks all by himself.
"True," Scott said with a smile.
But that's precisely what Randle has done on numerous possessions throughout this preseason, and his agility, athleticism and ball-handling skills have been one of the biggest highlights -- and biggest surprises -- for the Lakers, continually impressing his teammates, coaches and fans alike. Thus the creation of the social media hashtag, #RandlesHandles.
For Randle, though, it's nothing new.
"I've been doing that since I was little," said Randle, whom the Lakers made the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
"Fourth grade, fifth grade," he said after notching 14 points and nine rebounds against Maccabi "It's been a while."
Randle added, "It's who I am. Naturally that's who I've always been -- been able to do everything on the court, effect the game in different ways. Naturally that's just who I am."
His years of experience shows, as Randle looks more than comfortable handling the ball as he races up the court after grabbing a rebound or a loose ball. That skill-set also adds another dynamic to the Lakers.
"It's dangerous, man," said Lakers guard and 2015 No. 2 draft pick D'Angelo Russell. "He puts himself and everybody else in a position where they're always open and he's open. If he feels like passing it, then that's what he does, but a lot of times he has that basket [in front of him]."
Randle has arguably been the most impressive Laker this preseason, especially after the past three games, during which he has averaged 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and three assists per game.
His fast start seems a bit unexpected considering he missed all but 14 minutes of last season after suffering a broken leg in his NBA debut. Then during summer league play, Randle was on a minutes restriction and struggled to find any rhythm.
But free of any sort of restriction, he looks smooth and lively, free of rust.
"Rhythm-wise, fatigue, game-shape wise and stuff like that, I feel good," Randle said. "I'm in a good rhythm. [There's] a lot I can build on and get better at, but I feel better."
Randle may be surprising others, but not his coach.
"We expect him to play well this year, even though it's kind of his rookie year as well," Scott said. "Just the experience of watching and learning from the bench [last season], I think was important for him. I expect him to play the way he's playing right now, even at a higher level."
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant, about to begin his 20th NBA season more than nine months after undergoing right shoulder surgery, scored 21 points in 19 minutes while going 4-for-6 from 3-point range, leading the Lakers to a 126-83 exhibition rout of Israel's Maccabi Haifa on Sunday night.
"We try to keep him below the 3-point line. But when he's scoring it like he was tonight, he obviously has the capability of being able to step out there as well," coach Byron Scott said.
"He's looks better and better. His timing looks great, his movement looks great, and he just looks so much more fluid right now. He says he feels great, so right now we'll keep staying the course."
Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the draft and one of seven rookies on the preseason roster, had 11 assists and five points in 18 minutes off the bench after sitting out a game because of a bruised glute. Roy Hibbert added 16 rebounds.
"I'm looking for the team to get better," said Bryant, who made six of 10 shots. "We've got plenty of work to do, obviously. The team is so young, and we have a lot of learning to do."
The Lakers, playing their first preseason game at Staples Center following back-to-back losses to the Utah in Hawaii and another against Toronto at Ontario, California, opened with a 17-2 run while Maccabi Haifa missed nine of its first 10 shots.
"The preseason is just like summer league -- I don't put a whole lot of stock into it," Scott said. "It's all about trying to get ready for the regular season and trying to put all your stuff in at both ends of the floor. If you win, that's great. If you don't, you hope you can learn from it."
Hibbert approached Booker during a stop in play at the 7:14 mark of the third quarter during Tuesday's game. The players got in each other's faces before Booker took an open-handed swing at Hibbert, who was held back by his teammates.
Shortly thereafter, Booker was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the Jazz's 117-114 overtime win at the University of Hawaii. Hibbert remained in the game.
Assuming he is healthy, Booker will serve the suspension during the Jazz's season opener at the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 28.
Information from ESPN's Baxter Holmes was used in this report.
ONTARIO, Calif. -- Early in the second half of the Los Angeles Lakers' 105-97 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, a fan shouted from the stands at longtime star guard Kobe Bryant: "You ain't no 93!"
The fan was referencing Bryant's No. 93 ranking in ESPN's #NBArank project, which counts down the NBA's top players for this upcoming season.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history, laughed when asked whether he'd heard such comments from fans defending him.
"Yeah, I heard a couple of them," he said with a smile after scoring 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in nearly 22 minutes. "I don't need to defend that [ranking]. Nobody does, really."
Pressed on what he thought of the ranking, Bryant said, "Please don't ask me about silly stuff like that."
After the release of last year's rankings, in which he was No. 40, Bryant voiced his displeasure.
"I've known for a long time [that] they're a bunch of idiots," Bryant said last October, referring to the ranking as "silly" and "laughable."
For the 2015 edition of #NBArank, 101 members of the ESPN Forecast panel (analysts, writers, researchers, editors, etc.) predicted how much each NBA player would contribute to his team's ability to win games, factoring in both his quality of play and minutes played.
The panel, founded in 2008, has been ranking NBA players since the lockout of 2011.
In the first three editions, Bryant ranked seventh, sixth and fourth (in a special edition of #NBArank published shortly before his Achilles injury).
Kobe Bryant suited up for his third straight preseason game and scored 16 points at Citizens Business Bank Arena in just over 20 minutes of play, a number that coach Byron Scott said was predetermined.
RAPTORS: Lowry missed the Raptors' second preseason game with a sore right groin, but there was no indication of any lingering effects as he scored 14 second-half points, including nine straight in the third quarter.
LAKERS: Julius Randle led the Lakers with 17 points. Lou Williams scored 14 against his former team.
MISSING: Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell sat out with a bruised glute. The first-round draft pick was hurt in Tuesday's preseason game, a loss to Utah in Hawaii. Brandon Bass was held out after MRIs revealed a bruised left patella.
STAR WATCH: Bryant's line included three assists and three rebounds. Metta World Peace scored six points.
UP NEXT: The Lakers will host Maccabi Haifa on Sunday night in their first preseason game at Staples Center. The Raptors return home to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher and Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes were involved in a physical altercation Saturday night in Los Angeles during a party at the home of Barnes' ex-wife, sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Wednesday.
When Barnes arrived at the home, he got physical with Fisher, sources said. But Fisher did not show any outward physical injuries when he returned to practice on Tuesday. Fisher told Knicks officials he had enjoyed spending time with his children over the weekend, sources said.
Barnes and Fisher played together with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2010 to 2012 and were said by one former teammate to be "very close" at the time.
Barnes is in training camp with the Grizzlies, who were training for a bit in Santa Barbara. Barnes was elsewhere in L.A. when he was told that Fisher was at the home, a source told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. Fisher had flown to California after practice on Saturday to visit his children.
The Knicks had Sunday off; Fisher missed the practice on Monday because of travel problems, the team said.
The Knicks, Grizzlies and the NBA became aware of the incident and were gathering information, sources told ESPN.com. A league spokesman said it was premature to comment.
Fisher said before Wednesday night's preseason game in New York against Brazil's Paschoalotto Bauru that he was focused on the game. He declined to offer specifics on the incident.
The New York Post, which earlier reported the altercation, reported that Fisher and Barnes' ex-wife, Gloria Govan, a star on the show "Basketball Wives LA," are in a relationship. Fisher filed for divorce from his wife, Candace, in March.
ESPN.com’s #NBArank project is counting down the NBA’s top players for this upcoming season. Over 100 NBA experts from across ESPN (including analysts, writers, researchers and editors) participated in this season’s #NBArank project with the goal of ranking players in terms of both quantity and quality of each player’s contributions to his team’s ability to win games in the upcoming season.
The countdown continued on Wednesday with Nos. 100-91, with Kobe Bryant coming in at No. 93. Bryant was ranked No. 6 in the 2012-13 countdown, then dropped to No. 25 the following season and was No. 40 last year.
At No. 93, Bryant is still the highest-ranked player on the Los Angeles Lakers. Every other team in the NBA has at least one player ranked higher than him, making him the lowest-ranked "best player" on any team.
Bryant is slated to make $25 million this season, more than any other player in the NBA, and his $54 million over the past two seasons is by far the most of any player. We take a look at why Bryant has fallen so far:
In the 41 games Bryant’s played over the last two seasons, he has averaged 21.1 points per game and shot under 38 percent from the field. That’s the worst field goal percentage over any two-year stretch in the shot-clock era in which a player averaged at least 20 points per game.
There were 18 games last season in which Bryant took at least 20 shots. He did not make half of them in any of those 18 games.
So why has his shooting percentage dropped?
Bryant is not getting as many close looks as in the past. Last season, 25 percent of his points came in the paint, the lowest mark of his career; entering last season, 34 percent of his career points came in the paint.
He is also not getting as many open looks. Last season, Bryant took 15 shots per game in which a defender was within 4 feet -- the highest average of any player in the NBA.
All this adds up to Bryant ranking 175th in half-court points per play out of the 185 players with at least 500 plays in the half court last season.
ESPN’s real plus-minus measures a player’s impact on team performance per 100 possessions. In general, it passes the smell test. The top five from a year ago? Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There is also an offensive and defensive component.
Bryant ranked 245th in RPM last season. His rating on the defensive end ranked among the 20 worst in the NBA.
Though Bryant has been less efficient, the on-the-surface numbers are still there for him. Last season, he was one of five players to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. The others? James, Harden, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin.
What to expect
The 2015-16 season will be Bryant’s 20th in the NBA; he will break a tie with John Stockton for the most seasons played for one team in NBA history. Bryant will also become the first guard in NBA history to play a 20th season.
Can he stay healthy? There’s not much to go on historically to project health. Only five other players -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Moses Malone, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis -- stuck around long enough to play a 20th season. Only Abdul-Jabbar and Parish managed to play in 60 games that season.
This will be Bryant's age-37 season. Out of the 72 NBA seasons by guards age 37 or older, two averaged 20 points per game (both of Michael Jordan’s Wizards seasons), 18 averaged double figures in points per game, and 23 played in at least 70 games.