D’Angelo Russell says Kobe Bryant is “mentally on another level”

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The big headlines involving Lakers’ rookie D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant this off-season came from an innocuous comment about Tracy McGrady and Kobe’s amusing Twitter reaction.

But the Lakers drafted Russell No. 2 because they saw a little Kobe in him, in the way he approached the game. They saw the mentality that helped make Kobe a star.

Russell threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium recently (he threw a strike) and before he went out he talked with Serena Winters of Lakers Nation about his mentality and what he sees in Kobe (hat tip Matt Moore at Eye on Basketball).

“I always preach, I didn’t get here from being the most athletic guy, the fastest guy, the tallest guy, or the strongest, I got here from my mind.”

And, that’s also what he respects so much about Kobe Bryant.

“That’s something when I watch Kobe interviews or listen to Kobe talk, he’s mentally on another level, when I listen to him, I relate to that.”

Russell is saying the right things, although following through with a Kobe-like mentality is different from talking about it. We’ll see where Russell ultimately falls on that scale.

It’s been discussed plenty that Russell didn’t have a great Summer League, that he was trying to do too much, and he struggled to catch up with the speed of the game. It’s also almost meaningless — plenty of players who had rough Summer Leagues had good seasons, while the list of Summer League MVPs who didn’t do much in the league is long. What matters is what Russell learned and how he grows from that experience. Can he apply those lessons when the games get real in late October?

That will be the true test of his mentality, because the learning curve for point guards in the NBA is steep.