What's up coasting and ghosting. I’m the high IQ, high character guy you’ve been searching for all season. Some of you have been searching for this guy (me) since Scott Layden was Isiah Thomas. Now look, I bring all the intangibles to the offensive end. Then, from a defensive standpoint, I’ve got an excellent motor mouth. I'm the two-way stud of your most ethereal dreams.
I will concede, however, that at the end of the day, the reason we’re really here is to go in depth on one of the top prospects available in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today's catch is Ohio State University's cunning, stunning freshman guard, D'angelo Russell.
D'Angelo was born in Lexington, Kentucky and finished his high school career at Mount Verde Academy in Florida. He was a late addition to a team that already boasted some top recruits (Ben Simmons, Grayson Allen). Perhaps a detriment to his college recruitment, he ended up on a more or less mediocre Ohio State team. His lone season as a Buckeye saw him average 19-5-5.
If he had a singular NBA-level teammate, Russell probably would have closer to ten assists a night and could have nailed a couple more easy looks on his own. If that were the case, he might be the clear cut favorite to go number one right now. All season long his exquisite, pinpoint passes were hitting guys on the hands and going clear through their fingers. Plenty other dimes were caught in space and just flat out missed, often at point blank range. Ohio State played a relatively easy schedule, and Russell sliced open his fair share of second-rate teams. As the competition ramped up, his performances tended to be less impressive, but he rarely struggled to get what he wanted, and consistently created good looking opportunities for his team.
Russell's coach, Thad Matta, has churned out some quality long term pros (David West, Mike Conley among others) and that should speak to D'Angelo being mentally prepared to make the leap. He has good height for a guard: nearly 6'5" with a 6'9.75" wingspan. He'll need to grow some muscles, but he won't even be 20 years old until February 23 of next year-- which, coincidentally, is the same day as Andrew Wiggins and Flip Saunders. He is a P-P-P-Pisces for sure, generous with the ball and certain to hit the open man with zippy and imaginative dishes.
D'Angelo is a true blue guard. He is neither a strict scorer, nor a devout distributor. Equally dangerous without the ball as with, he'll be able to keep a defender pulled all the way out to his chest on the perimeter, effectively creating space on the strong side and negating some weak-side double teams. His game reminds me very much of Lamar Odom in a lot of ways. What you don't get in rebounding and post presence, he makes up for with a lot more consistent range. D'Angelo also shows the skill and flair to take over in crunch time every night. It's the way he changes speeds and squirms around a screen, how he lopes up the floor, the quick low dribbles pushing the ball to the open space, that's that Lamar right there. Of course, he's also one of those extremely casual and euphorically tricky lefties. You know you're gonna get hit, you just can't tell when or how.
Don't take it from me, though, let's hear what D'angelo thinks! In this interview (skip ahead to 29:22) I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to hear what D'Angelo's first purchase will be, who he compares his game to and who he models it after. It's a good way to get a quick sense of his attitude and the confidence he will most certainly bring to any team and every teammate.
Offensively is where you expect the most out of Russell. He's a gifted passer, and has some lethal dribble moves. He can also score inside (62% at the rim) or outside (41% on threes). He only shot 75% from the stripe, and got there a little less than five times a game, which is fine. Digging a little deeper though, according to hoop-math.com he took 22% of his shots at the rim and 33% of his shots were two-point jumpers. You'd like it if he could get to the line and convert his opportunities a little more. If he just cut out some of his dribble pull-ups and continued charging the hoop, his free throw attempts would hopefully increase accordingly. Or at least keep the dribble alive so you can kick it back out and look for something better. Quick catch and shoot chances from baseline screens should still be good shots for him. Let's take a look at D'Angelo doing a little of everything en route to a tidy triple-double.
Of course he has faced some stingier defenses, but he's never played with NBA level teammates either. Give this guy an elite roll-man and some 3-and-D athletes, and you've got yourself the basic engine for a dangerous offense. Add an elite scorer and he'll be able to lose his man on screens and weaponize the entire team. I wonder if the Knicks have any elite scorers that could use some space to operate? They certainly don't have any 3-and-D guys or elite roll men.
This all leads me to some of the downside for D'angelo. First, maybe I can snuff out some of the hilarious jokesters who will call him "Angelo, because no D". Hey, that joke was so funny I forgot to laugh. It's not without merit, though. Something you should probably get out of your system is D'Angelo being a two way stud. His defense is just not so special. Thankfully he doesn't make silly fouls and you don't have to worry about hiding him on defense, but he's certainly learned some bad habits. Doesn't always keep his hands ready, heavy laterally and just generally doesn't show much aggression. He does rebound well, isn't too afraid of contact and has some clever instincts. So cram the caveats and just can the caviar.
Much like Russell himself, the Clyde factor on this one has a ton of potential. First of all, he's obviously gonna be a "Dee-An-Juh-Ler". I'd bet that we'd have plenty of instances where Clyde just can't remember which letter to start with, so we'll get some L'Angelo's, B'Angelos and if we're super lucky we'll get a Car'Angelo. The surname won't be too much trouble, but I wouldn't be surprised if Clyde wants to chop it down to "Russ" every now and then. Clyde isn't much of an internal rhymer, so we'll probably get a lot of hustles, muscles, tussles and bustles. If I were able to workshop with Clyde, I'd offer up, "now you see me, now you D me! D'Angelooo... with the mesmerizing passing." Because, let's get serious -- this guy can fucking pass.
Lotta zip on those passes! One of the more astonishing things to see in that video is the sheer amount of blown layups with no real defense being played. Yet, even on simple ball reversals, he's able to fool multiple defenders with diamond cutting passes right on the hands, in the shooting pocket or always in a space where only his teammate can catch it. He is thinking several steps ahead at all times, and his ability to score from really anywhere keeps all his options available no matter what the defense gives him.
Is it even remotely possible that he slips past Philadelphia at three? I think not, he fits too perfectly there. The only dark horses are Mario Hezonja (draft and stash?) and Emmanuel Mudiay (fits their team's architecture). Russell gives them what they desperately need, however. Of course, there is the outside chance that Minnesota can't pass on their birthday trifecta. Maybe those crazy Lakers will have to get someone that Kobe can groom and breastfeed?
If he does fall to us at four, you can be certain we'd have a tremendously talented lead guard for years to come. He will almost certainly fit in and understand the machinations of the Triangle. Some people even think he could be the best in this class. So do we want him? And can we call him Mister Mustard?