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.’”