Just nine days after the conclusion of the 2014-15 NBA season, the offseason is set to officially begin Thursday night with the NBA draft.
Ohio State basketball may not be as premier of a program as the likes of Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky, but even without a NCAA basketball championship since 1960, OSU has fared pretty well recently with hearing its name announced as the college its former players attended after a pick is selected.
Since 2007, OSU has had nine players selected to the NBA. A few notable names selected in the first round are Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger.
Thursday night, D’Angelo Russell is projected to be a top five selection, and most likely the first guard off the draft board. The order of the top five selections as of now (subject to change via trade):
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- New York Knicks
- Orlando Magic
All five of these teams would love to add Russell’s smooth perimeter play to their franchises. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic seem to be the least likely to select Russell in their current draft slots.
The Timberwolves may have found their two future guards from last year’s draft class with their own selection of the athletic Zach LaVine and trading for the reigning rookie of the year and first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, before the season began. The Timberwolves not only have those two, but they also signed point guard Ricky Rubio to a four-year, $55 million contract extension. Minnesota will most likely use the pick on center Karl-Anthony Towns in the hopes that he will give them a post presence for years to come.
Russell falling to the Magic’s fifth pick seems very unlikely after having taken a couple of backcourt playmakers in Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, respectively, in consecutive drafts. Look for the Magic to go with a big man, trade back out of the pick or take a much-needed shooter, which they are lacking with Payton, Oladipo and the fourth selection last year in Aaron Gordon.
It seems likely that Russell will be wearing a 76ers, Knicks or Lakers jersey in his rookie season. All three places would be great fits, but each offer different opportunities early in his career. In Los Angeles, he would have a chance to learn from the legendary Kobe Bryant in the final stage of his career. In New York, Russell would be inserted into Phil Jackson’s famous triangle offense and would play alongside Carmelo Anthony. In Philadelphia, Russell would be given the reins to the team pretty early on, but the team has some health questions surrounding one of their two young big men, Joel Embiid, last year’s third overall pick.
If not one of these teams, look for the Sacramento Kings to possibly strike a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade centering on DeMarcus Cousins and the second overall pick.
Expect Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis and Russell to go in any order from selections two through four.
Russell had a splendid freshman campaign for the Scarlet and Gray. Russell put up averages of 19.3 points per game, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists. As with every prospect, each player has both strengths and weaknesses entering the draft.
NBA teams will love his 6-foot-5 frame combined with his high basketball IQ. Being able to play either guard position, his size and IQ allows him to take smaller guards into the post, shoot right over top of them or see plays develop over the top of defenders on the perimeter. Russell will be able to contribute on the boards as a guard, which he did in college as well.
The main thing I saw from Russell’s lone college season was how open he made the floor feel. In transition and in the half-court, he played in his own smooth style while either scoring or facilitating to an open teammate. The most impressive part to this was that the floor was never truly open. Every team’s game plan was to have anyone else but Russell beat them from the three-point line. Due to OSU’s lack of outside shooting, the lane was condensed, but Russell never made it feel that way. In the NBA, he will have more space with better shooters surrounding him and a three-point line a couple of feet deeper.
With all that said, we know the true reason why he is consensus top five pick: his ability to score. He can score by creating his own shot with his ball handling, off the ball spotting-up at the three-point line, getting all the way to the hoop and finishing, drawing fouls or playing in the post. Russell’s could make a living with his one-to-two-dribble pull-up jump shot.
His scoring rarely took away from his passing instincts. He always saw plays developing in both the half court and in transition. Driving down the lane, he always had the mind to perfectly drop off a pass for an easier shot or throw up a lob to the high-flying Sam Thompson.
One glaring weakness I saw of Russell on the offensive end was his off hand. Near the basket he seemed to always adjust to finish on the left side of the rim. Also, he would always try to beat his initial defender with his left hand. If he were unable to do this, he would only take one or two dribbles with his right hand and not seem determined to get to the basket. Most of the time when he went right he ended up taking one or two dribbles and shooting a jumper or trying to get it back to his left hand and passing it off to a teammate if he were unsuccessful. At the NBA level, teams will be able to take advantage of this in their game plans.
Two adjustments every guard must make in the transition to the NBA is the extended three-point line and finishing over 7-footers. At times, Russell settled for too many threes when you felt he needed to take it to the basket and draw a foul. I am not sure how consistent his three-point jumper will be early on from NBA three-point range, but I expect him to improve throughout his career. He has not played against many true 7-footers in his career, so he will need a floater in the lane and be able to finish with both hands. Also, learning to draw a foul is just as good, where he is exceptional at the free-throw line.
Russell is a good athlete, but not an elite one. He is not as agile nor as explosive finishing around the rim as many current NBA backcourt players are. His size can make up for some of this by still being able to contest some shots even after a player creates some space. I expect him to mainly defend the opposing team’s 2-guard as he may not be quick enough to defend some of the point guards in this league, while having the necessary size to guard an NBA shooting guard.
I have never been a big fan of player comparisons, but two current NBA players came to mind when thinking about D’Angelo Russell: Manu Ginobili and James Harden. No, not just because all three are left-handed; both players are not great athletes but can attack in numerous ways on the offensive end. I do think Russell will have a better career playing off the ball most of the time. He will also be a backup ball handler when the starting point guard is on the bench, similarly to these two players.
Ginobili has always been one of my favorite players with his ability to create plays attacking for himself and teammates.
Harden has a deadly mid-range game by using his elite ball handling to create those shots. Russell might not have nearly the same build as Harden, but Russell can learn from Harden on creative ways to draw fouls once he reaches the paint.
At the NBA draft combine, Russell displayed some of the confidence he has of himself to the media. Russell stated, “I am the best player in the draft.” That sounds similar to how he composes himself while on the court, always believing there is no better player on the floor. Only time will tell if Russell ends up being the best from the 2015 draft class.