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Deeper Dive: D'Angelo Russell's Full Compliment of Tools

by Photo of Tommy Dee

With so much focus on Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns, Ohio State’s sensational guard is quietly rising.

Deeper Dive: D'Angelo Russell's Full Compliment of Tools

Every year around this time right after the sports world nurses its collective hangover following the Super Bowl, the attention turns to college basketball for a warm and soothing cup of conference action. It is now that the country's best players destined to play at the next level take to the forefront as professional scouts swarm to buzzing arenas nationwide.

All season long the talk surrounding June's NBA draft has been focused heavily on potential franchise-changing bigs Jahlil Okafor of Duke and Karl Anthony-Towns of Kentucky. Both appear to be top 3 locks, with Okafor establishing himself as the top pick as we cozily sit here today. After all, centers have historically helped franchises pivot back to respectability quickly from Kareem-Abdul Jabbar to Anthony Davis. There's been significant talk about the mysterious freak of an athlete Emmanual Mudiay who people I trust feel is John Wall meets Jrue Holiday. But gaining access or viewing tape on the kid has proven as difficult as a Knicks fan getting a Jim Dolan Christmas card. Outside of Mudiay, not many guards have been mentioned when top potential draft picks are discussed.

Enter Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell. 

On the surface there's so much to like about Russell's ability to flood the stat sheet. Zach Braziller of the New York Post got the chance to watch Russell first hand and spoke to a few scouts in attendance. One in particular was supremely impressed with his passing ability

His passing really has turned heads. He’s a willing ball-mover, not the typically high-scoring phenom who eats up the shot clock by pounding the ball into the court.

He made several highlight-reel plays Sunday. One of the most impressive came on a standard pick-and-roll at the top of the key. Two Scarlet Knights defenders immediately converged on Russell, and he softly flicked a pass into the paint — where teammate JaeSean Tate was — and it resulted in an easy layup, Tate catching the pass in stride.

“That’s what he does best,” the scout said. “When he comes at you, you can tell, he knows where everyone is on the floor. He sees his four guys and the other team’s five guys. He’s looking guys off all game.”

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla is one of Russell’s biggest fans, calling him “the draft’s most skilled player” and said “he already possesses the poise and countenance of a 10-year NBA veteran.”

Through February 11th, Russell is averaging 5.4 assists per game but has dropped double digit dimes in two of his last four games including 11 against Rutgers and 10 against Indiana. What stands out to me more than anything is his ability to orchestrate at such an early age with such limited reps with teammates. Consider how Russell has responded to the loss of second leading scorer Marc Loving, who was recently suspended by the Buckeyes for disciplinary reasons.

In the video below I decided to take a look at Russell's midrange game and passing, two facets that stand out to me in a way that I haven't seen from a lefty point guard since Kenny Anderson was shredding defenses and leading the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the early 1990s. Anderson was a mid-range assassin and had the keen ability to rock his defender to sleep with his hesitation dribble. He also fit perfectly with teammates Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott forming "Lethal Weapon 3" borrowing the monicker from the famous Mel Gibson/Danny Glover franchise. Not familiar with Anderson? I call Bobby Hurley to the stand.

They named this "The Move."    

Any resemblance?

(video via @draftexpress)

Russell struggled early in the year handling the speed of the game, clearly evident in the loss at Louisville in early December when he forced shots and compiled four turnovers. But like all great, young guards, Russell has adjusted to the pace and over the last month he's combined for 48 assists and just 16 turnovers, a 3-to-1 ratio.

Russell is averaging 19.5 points and 5.9 rebounds to go with those 5.4 assists. All of those numbers lead Ohio State. According to Basketball Reference, if Russell kept up those numbers the rest of the season he'd become one of just 14 players since the 1997-1998 season to average 19/5/5 in a season. The other 13 players, which include Speedy Claxton, Norris Cole, Elfrid Payton and former Buckeyes guard Evan Turner, were all seniors and juniors. Russell is doing this as a freshman

He's not sneaking up on anyone anymore and will face tough tests upcoming against Michigan State and Wisconsin before heading to Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament. He's proving that this draft is living up to its billing as one of the strongest in recent memory and maybe the strongest since 2003 when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh entered the league. There was no debate who the consensus overall number one overall pick was that year, but if Russell's consistent all-around play continues you can bet that he'll make a difficult decision even harder for the team who lands the top pick when the ping pong balls reveal it. 

In the meantime, here's our D'Angelo Russell Deeper Dive.

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