As Kobe Bryant heads to his retirement after two decades in the league, a number of youngsters including D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson seem to be giving hope to the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Lakers are officially out of the playoffs race this season and Bryant continues showing off his last moves in his celebrated career, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Californian franchise, who last appeared in the playoffs in the 2012-13 season. At the time they were swept 4-0 in the first round of the Western Conference by eventual NBA finalist San Antonio Spurs.
Before the Lakers (14-52) host the New York Knicks on Sunday, D’Angelo, Randle, Clarkson have indicated how the team’s future might be bright.
Let’s just rewind and look back at how the lowly Lakers were able to beat the defending champions and dominant Golden State Warriors 112-95 last Sunday, causing the biggest upset of the season so far.
None really expected it, but D’Angelo, Randle, Clarkson and Co believed they could do it.
Led by Clarkson with 25 points and Russell with 21, they handed Golden State just their sixth loss of the season.
“Kobe [had 12 points] kept us on our toes,” Russell said. “He was coaching us the whole game from the sideline. Telling us to push it when we got it, don’t wait, and it worked.”
Since returning to the starting line-up, rookie Russell is averaging 21 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from three-point range.
Russell set a career-high with eight free throws made and led the team in scoring with 22 points against Memphis on 26 February.
On the other hand, Randle is averaging 13.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest since returning to the starting line-up. Randle has 28 double-doubles this season.
Early this week, on 3 March, Russell scored 27 points, Clarkson added 24 and Randel poured in 23 points, combining for 74 points in the Lakers’ 107-98 win over the Orlando Magic.
The Lakers will definitely become a different team without Bryant, but Russell, who became the youngest player in NBA history to make eight three-pointers in a game against the Brooklyn Nets on 1 March, has officially joined the future NBA stars conversation.
It remains to be seen if the Lakers will enter the race to sign Kevin Durant who will become a free agent at the end of the season.