Lakers make the surprising choice of going with Russell over Okafor
NEW YORK — Mitch Kupchak had a question for the newest member of the Lakers.
He called D’Angelo Russell shortly after the Lakers took him with the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
“Did we surprise you a little bit?” the Lakers’ general manager asked the Ohio State point guard as a few people crowded around the phone.
Everyone knew the answer: Absolutely.
The Lakers passed up the safe selection, Duke center Jahlil Okafor, to take the f lash- and- dash presented by Russell.
He wowed the team with his lights- out shooting at workouts, not to mention a matching personality, and was so excited Thursday he felt like “busting out like a baby, in tears,” he said at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Russell said all the right things Thursday, oozing confidence in his Ohio State-colored jacket, not to mention red shoes that looked more like expensive slippers.
“I’m still in shock ... but dreams come true. I’m here and I’m ready to make an impact right away,” he said.
Kupchak is a known fan of post players, often saying a good big man is better than a good little man. There was plenty of sentiment that the Lakers would lean toward Okafor for that reason, not to mention his strong post game and reliable midrange jump shot.
But Lakers scouts and coaches were impressed by Russell, who possesses good height for a guard ( 6 feet 5) and averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and f ive assists in his only season with the Buckeyes. In a sense, Kupchak let the majority rule before making a final decision.
He declined to say the Lakers took Russell over Okafor because of the NBA’s trend toward space-and-pace basketball epitomized by the Golden State Warriors.
“You look around this building and you see [ Wilt] Chamberlain, and you see [ Kareem Abdul- Jabbar] and you see Shaquille O’Neal, those are three pretty good centers,” Kupchak said of the retired jerseys at the team’s El Segundo practice facility. “There was also Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Magic Johnson. You can debate the whole topic.
“Am I going to say that we selected him because we think that’s the direction this league and the game is going? I don’t think that’s the case. You still need quality big men in this league, and if any of those players on the wall were available, we would have selected them.”
More likely, the Lakers think they have a legitimate shot at free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers’ All- Star power forward.
Kupchak did not name names — he can’t because of tampering rules — but alluded to the allure of next week. Free agency begins Tuesday at 9: 01 p. m. PDT.
“There are lot of big men that may be available during free agency,” he said.
DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe and Kevin Love are other possibilities.
The Lakers debated Thursday’s pick for days and kept their plans mostly bottled up. Russell didn’t become aware of the decision until the final few seconds of the f ive- minute window to make the pick.
Okafor was then snapped up by Philadelphia at No. 3. As expected, Kentucky center Karl- Anthony Towns went f irst overall to Minnesota.
“I think Okafor is going to be a good center in this league,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “I just think D’Angelo has a chance to be a superstar.”
Russell was deferential to Kobe Bryant, hoping the old veteran would stick around awhile, perhaps beyond the one year left on his contract.
“Not knowing how much he has left in the tank is the scary thing, knowing how much he brings to the game,” Russell said. “But I’m really looking forward to him taking me under his wing if possible and really just feeding me the most knowledge he can and just letting me use that as f ire against my opponents.”
Russell shot a commend- able 41% from three- point range at Ohio State but was prone to erratic games, including a three- for- 19 effort as the Buckeyes were eliminated by Arizona in their second NCAA tournament game. Conversely, he scored 28 points against Virginia Commonwealth in the Buckeyes’ tournament opener.
Russell, 19, will make about $ 5.1 million in his first season when he officially signs his contract. He could be side- by- side in the backcourt with Jordan Clarkson, who had a strong f inish to his rookie season, if Bryant moved to small forward.
Russell presumably would be the starting point guard, but Clarkson could handle the ball plenty of times at shooting guard.
The Lakers took Wyoming power forward Larry Nance, Jr., with the 27th pick, substantially higher than most predictions had slotted the senior.
Nance’s path hasn’t been easy. He has Crohn’s disease and also had mononucleosis and a torn knee ligament in recent years.
He worked out at the Lakers’ practice facility last Friday. Clearly he made an impression.
“If there’s a ball on the court, f irst quarter, fourth quarter, I’m on it. Whether I get it or not, I’m going to be on the f loor working for it,” Nance said at the time. “It’s effort plays that you can really count on from me.”
The son of former Phoenix Suns forward Larry Nance was projected as the 54th pick by DraftExpress . com. The Lakers had the pick as part of the Jeremy Lin trade.
The Lakers selected Stanford forward Anthony Brown with the 34th pick, their last of the draft. Brown, 6 feet 7 and a graduate of Ocean View High in Huntington Beach, averaged 14.8 points and 6.9 rebounds last season as a senior.
LARRY NANCE JR.’ S dad won dunk contest.
I T WAS A NIGHT OF SURPRISE for Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, left, taken by the Lakers with the No. 2 overall pick, and for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, who received a hug as he was chosen by the 76ers at No. 3.