While the concept of freshmen becoming top NBA draft picks has become a customary practice, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was not seen as a likely one-and-done prospect coming into the season. After a prolific freshman campaign, can Russell be the top guard selected in this year’s draft?
At 6-foot-5, Russell possesses the size to play either guard position in the NBA. He isn’t an explosive athlete, but is so crafty with the ball that his skill level can compensate for his lack of stellar athleticism. Russell possesses a variety of moves with a step back, left-to-right behind his back dribble and in-and-out crossover being perhaps his two favorites.
Although Russell can certainly play off the ball, his intrigue comes at the point guard position. He didn’t always run the offense for Ohio State, but did average 5.0 assists per game and dropped some of the prettiest passes in college basketball this season. His size allows him to see over the defense with ease while he can usually see a play before it happens. He was extraordinary at fitting the ball into tight windows.
Russell can pass the ball well, but he was also one of the top scorers in the country. He averaged 19.3 points per game for the Buckeyes while shooting 44.9% from the field and 41.1% from three-point range. The lefty shows the ability to create his own shot either off the dribble or running off of screens. He can also get into the lane and finish with a floater.
Offensively, there are hardly any flaws in Russell’s game. He’s a lethal pick-and-roll ballhandler because of his ability to knock down the open shot or find the rolling big man. He did commit 2.9 turnovers per game, but made enough good decisions with the ball to accept an overly ambitious mistake. Russell also showed some struggles finishing with contact at the rim, where his athleticism could be questioned, but he will likely build most of his offense from mid-range and beyond in the NBA.
On the defensive end of the floor, Russell shows good instincts and enough length to disrupt passing lanes. He averaged 1.6 steals per contest and was a good help defender when engaged. Russell will face questions as an on-ball defender in the NBA, however, due to his lack of elite quickness and strength. He can also improve on battling through screens on the pick-and-roll, as he got caught on bigs too often at Ohio State.
While it may be a lofty comparison, Russell does show some similarities to this year’s MVP, Stephen Curry. Like Curry, Russell isn’t a big-time athlete, but instead relies on his advanced skill level to dominate games. He won’t make a living at the rim, but will instead build his offense from the outside-in. As just a 19-year-old, Russell will enter the league at a much younger age, but faces similar questions that Curry did out of Davidson. He won’t be expected to be the same type of shooter, but should be a consistent threat from deep.
Russell will be a top five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and will compete with Emmanuel Mudiay for the top guard selected. His time at Ohio State was brief, but he provided some of the most exciting plays from the past season with a combination of ankle breaking moves and remarkable passes. He possesses a certain kind of confidence that a missed shot doesn’t shake his demeanor and there’s a feeling that he’s going to do something special every time the ball is in his hands. The only real question marks will be if he can translate his effectiveness against higher caliber athletes, since he has ideal size and skills. Russell can play either guard position – not because he’s a tweener – but rather because he possesses the size and skill set to play either spot effectively.
He has All-Star potential with his floor being a versatile spark plug off the bench. While the big men have gotten most of the attention, don’t be surprised if Russell the best player from this draft class.
Any international players interested in coming to the USA to play in college, prep school or high school can contact us here. We are looking for interns and sales associates. If you’re interested contact us and forward your resume.