D’Angelo Russell doesn’t have doubts — he says he’s the best player in this draft.
NBA teams, some of them have doubts.
Russell is a top talent who is a lock to go top five in the NBA draft (likely top three) — he impressed me the first time I saw him play at the Adidas Nations tournament before his senior year of high school. He’s a big guard at 6’5″ and the guy can score — he scored 19.3 points a game at Ohio State, hitting 41 percent from three. And that’s not even what scouts like best about him, as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated noted out of the recent NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
Here’s what executives love about Russell: His passing. Russell has superior size, but it’s his ability to read defenses that stands out. Russell averaged 2.9 turnovers per game last season. Study the tape though, and watch how many picture-perfect fastballs bounced off teammates’ hands because they weren’t expecting them. Russell’s greatest strength is seeing a play develop before it happens.
But there are doubters as well.
Here’s what execs don’t love about Russell: His athleticism. More specifically, his lack of it. Russell is not a dynamic athlete. He doesn’t have the explosion of Emmanual Mudiay, the draft’s other top playmaking prospect. A common question is how Russell will handle more athletic opponents defensively.
“I’m not as high on him as a lot of people. A lot of teams have found ways to be successful in pretty much stopping him — in all aspects, whether it be distributing the ball or scoring…. In games against the top 60 we’re talking about a guy who was shooting 36-37 percent, even less from three, was getting his assists but also was turning the ball over a lot more…. On the bright side, in a big spot he wants the ball, very aggressive, always looking to make something happen.”
There are players and point guards who thrive in the NBA without elite athleticism — if you can see the play developing and make the right reads your feel for the game will be enough. Plus with his size you can play Russell at the two guard at times.
But the doubts are out there; there is not a consensus on what his ceiling will be. The Sixers reportedly love him; other teams are not as sold.
He’ll get drafted behind the two big men — Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor — but whether he falls any farther depends on the outcome of the Draft Lottery Tuesday night. Is the GM of the team drafts third a believer or not?