(Photo: via ESPN.com)
We continue our break down of the prospects projected at the top of the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft and next on our list is smooth as silk guard from Ohio State D’Angelo Russell.
2015 NBA Draft Evaluation:
D’Angelo Russell (19 years and 4 months old, Point Guard, Ohio State University via Louisville, Kentucky)
Video Highlights (courtesy of YouTube Morx5000):
Coming out of college as a combo guard, Russell can either be viewed as a big point guard or a slightly undersized shooting guard. Assuming he mostly plays point in the league, his 6’ 9.75” wingspan and 8’6” standing reach are great numbers in addition to his 6’5” height. At around 195 pounds, he’s a bit light for his height, but with age and maturity should come some additional muscle on his frame.
His length is key to his defensive success due to his below average speed/leaping ability for a guard his size. He isn’t hopeless in either area, just not quite as strong as would be ideal. That said, his conditioning is a major plus. He played nearly 34 minutes per game in his one season at Ohio State. He will need to add upper body mass to be an effective inside presence in the NBA, but he has put on weight between the end of the collegiate season and the Draft Combine in Chicago.
Perhaps the greatest strength to Russell’s game is his tremendous ball handling ability. He’s able to penetrate almost effortlessly and he can effectively create his own shot, meaning that defenders were often at a loss for how to guard him. He had 1.04 points per possession on off the dribble jumpers, a number good enough for second in the NCAA among qualifying players. He has a top-level floater, but his ability to finish at the rim leaves something to be desired. He isn’t only adept at creating his own shot though, he’s a creative passer with superb vision and smart decision making on a level that is rarely seen in 19-year-old players. He made his teammates better in a way that any coach hopes their point guard can.
Russell averaged 5 assists to 2.9 turnovers during his season with Ohio State. While those aren’t groundbreaking numbers, it’s not uncommon for turnover numbers to improve drastically after spending a season under NBA coaching. His above-average size for a point guard aides his vision and his ability to find angles that other, smaller guards cannot. Also has shown excellent decision making in the pick and roll.
Outside shooting ability:
Russell shot 41.1% from beyond the arc on more than six attempts per game last season. That’s a remarkable percentage, especially for such a high-volume shooter. With the right NBA team, he could start by filling a role as a catch and shoot player, but he has the mechanics and the confidence to be much more than that. His 75.6% from the line is a bit low for a player who was so solid from outside, but not so low that it should be cause for concern. The extra distance between the collegiate and NBA three-point line should have little effect on Russell’s numbers.
Ability to get own shot:
D'angelo Russell is gonna have no problem getting to the rim in the NBA. But the difference is, he doesn't have to.. https://t.co/HdzanYR79A
— Chris Delgado (@Delblogo) June 13, 2015
As stated above, he was one of the top players in the NCAA at shooting off the dribble. That was due in large part to his solid mechanics, but it’s helped by the fact he has the confidence to shoot from wherever and the ball handling ability to create space. His floater will be a valuable tool, especially when going against the larger interior defenders of the NBA, but he’s going to have to improve his ability to finish at the rim to keep defenders from automatically going over screens in the pick and roll.
How he will score in the NBA:
Russell is going to be ready to be a big-time NBA scorer from day one. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he averages better than 18 points per game in his rookie year and continued to improve from there. His ability to create his own shot means he should be a reliable scoring point guard, but his excellent jump shot means that he could see minutes with a pass-first point guard and use those opportunities to be even more effective from outside. If he is able to get a bit quicker and a bit stronger, he’ll have enough size to have a formidable inside game as well.
If there’s a weakness to Russell’s game, it’s his defense. He’s by no means incompetent, but his lack of explosiveness means that the quicker point guards in the NBA won’t have much trouble getting by him. Still, his length allows him to compensate for a slower first step. He’s also been criticized for a lack of effort on defense. It’s hard to say if that will continue into the NBA, but under the right coach, it shouldn’t.
Basketball IQ and intangibles:
Reports of Russell’s basketball IQ range anywhere from “phenomenal” to “astonishing”. Throughout his season at Ohio State he showed the ability to hit teammates for easy shots and to avoid taking any ill-advised shots of his own. He took plenty of transition threes, but the majority came with offensive rebounders in place. The only place where his mental strength could be called into question is his tendency to occasionally lose track of his man on defense. Still, Russell is a smart, collected player, and there should be no hesitations about his basketball IQ.
Projected draft position:
Projected position in the NBA:
Comparable NBA player:
An optimistic comparison being thrown around is James Harden, but more realistic is Brandon Roy, who was a fantastic talent in his own right.