For months leading up to the 2015 NBA draft, the consensus top two picks of the class were Kentucky Wildcat Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke big man Jahlil Okafor. However as the pre-draft workouts began, a third prospect burst onto the scene in D’Angelo Russell, grabbing the attention of both the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, who held the No. 2 and No. 3 picks respectively. In an attempt to secure Russell, the 76ers GM Sam Hinkie tried on multiple occasions to trade up to the No. 2 slot. Despite lucrative offers, the Lakers’ front office refused to budge and stuck with their guy who was boldly taken with the No. 2 selection over the -11 Okafor.
Given that the NBA is rapidly trending towards a small-ball game, valuing athleticism, skill and basketball IQ over the traditional size and strength, the pick was hardly a shocker. By drafting Russell, the Lakers opted to buy into the “it” factor they saw in the -5, combo guard. For a 19-year old rookie who has yet to play a regular season game in the NBA, he exudes a remarkable amount of confidence and poise. The former Ohio State Buckeye was widely considered the player with the most superstar potential in the draft, but he also may be the most likely to flame out of the top three, which is why he wasn’t considered the “safest” pick by many scouts and draft experts.
Graphic via scoopnest
In his one season at Ohio State, Russell was one of the nation’s top freshmen, putting up averages of 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals while his effortless shot release led to an impressive 41.1% from distance.
At -5 with a long -9 wingspan, Russell excels at reading the situation, seeing over the defense and finding the open man with the ridiculous passes he’s capable of completing. Possessing tremendous ball skills and a smooth knack for getting to the rim, Russell comes into the NBA with an already effective drive-and-dish game. His basketball IQ is off the charts for someone of his age, as the lefty often uses his handle to creatively create mid-range looks for his quick shot release. On the other side of the ball, though he is not yet a lockdown defender, he is still very capable and will hold his own right away, using his extra length to play passing lanes and disrupt shots.
Despite being an electrifying and exciting player to watch, Russell still has glaring weaknesses coming into the association. Although as a young guard he is expected to be somewhat turnover prone at this stage in his career, he is still unproven at the Point Guard position, as his most natural role seems to be a combo guard. Though there were only a couple of other perimeter prospects that boast elite athleticism such as Emmanuel Mudiay and Stanley Johnson, the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year’s physical abilities are still slightly below league average. Although his silky smooth game is endlessly fun to watch and effective in many situations, he still lacks that killer explosiveness and intensity that he will be faced with night-in and night-out at the NBA level.
Many of the initial flaws in Russell’s game are a product of his age and will only come with time and tutelage of playing alongside Kobe Bryant. Although ahead of schedule consistency and decision-making will be tested this year, as he’ll be thrown into the shark tank from the get-go. Russell joins a youth movement the Lakers’ management and fans seem to be embracing, accompanying last year’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle, who played a grand total of one regular season game before breaking his right tibia and breakout stud Jordan Clarkson, who was selected No. 46 overall. Adding to the mix No. 27 and No. 34 prospects Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown, and the Lakers have an intriguing mixed bag of young talent to compliment recently acquired center Roy Hibbert and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. The Lakers seem to have acquired the prospect with the highest ceiling in the draft; how he’ll perform under the spotlight of a market the size of Los Angeles remains to be seen.
Graphic via buckeyextra