Russell has been under a microscope since he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in June, with seemingly every decision picked apart. He can’t shoot. He’s not a pass-first point guard. He’s not athletic enough. Why is he doing too much?
Chief among those criticizing him: His own head coach, Byron Scott. The two have butted heads throughout the season, and it has often come at the expense of Russell’s playing time.
Following the Lakers’ 105-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, Scott was harsh in assessing Russell’s 8-point, 3-for-10 shooting night:
Byron on D’Angleo: "Very, very bad start, for sure. Again, just way too loose with the ball. Just too lazy with it right now."
That’s quite the comparison. But it’s not far off. Everyone — including LeBron James and Jesus — gets criticized. That’s just how life works. People can always find something wrong with someone’s decisions or performance.
If Russell has proven anything this season, though, it’s that he’s actually built to play in a giant market like Los Angeles. Comments like the one above only further confirm that.
Russell isn’t fazed by criticism, and actually admits when he’s playing poorly. He may be confident, sure, but he doesn’t lack self-awareness. He isn’t afraid to stand up for himself or speak without much of a filter. When he disagreed with Scott’s decision to bench him, or with some of Scott’s critiques of his performances, Russell voiced his opinion. He wasn’t disrespectful, but he also wasn’t submissive.
For a 19-year-old to have such perspective is pretty darn impressive. Russell has poise beyond his years, even if he isn’t playing like it the way some of his draft class is.
A lot of players would recoil into a shell in this situation, or try to step up and do too much, hoping to prove their worth. Russell has trended toward the latter, but he’s primarily stayed even-keeled. He isn’t worried. He understands this is a process — even if it means costing him starts and thus, stats.
Russell has been recently labeled as "cocky," and he’s certainly shown traits that suggest that. There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and the latter could be counterproductive. But with the crazy nature of Kobe Bryant’s final season, and the way Russell has been mistreated by Scott at times, such devout self-belief may be the only thing holding him together.
Stars need to believe in themselves before anyone else does, and Russell seems to following that trajectory just fine.
Jovan Buha covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jovanbuha.