D'Angelo Russell is the best player the Buckeyes have had since National Player of the Year Evan Turner. As a freshman, Russell took complete control of the team and willed them to victory on more than one occasion. On a team bursting at the seams with underachieving seniors, Russell eschewed inexperience by taking over the reigns and put his penchant for leadership and success on display with complete regularity.
Now, Russell looks to make his mark on the NBA as the Draft approaches. Russell enters the Draft as one of the few players with distinct superstar potential. Comparisons to James Harden and Manu Ginobili continue to resonate with NBA teams and fans alike. While these comparisons may seem like hyperbole to some, Russell possesses a distinct skill set that will give him the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on whichever team wisely selects him this Thursday.
Scoring ability: Russell can be a prolific scorer when called upon. His ability to get to the rim, create his own shot, and catch and shoot makes him virtually impossible to shut down. Russell led the team in scoring this past year with 19.3 points per game and shot 41% from three point range. He was able to come up with big buckets all year while shouldering the significant scoring load. However, Russell's scoring excellence transcends pure numbers. Watching him all season long, anyone could see the fluidity of his game and the natural instincts he possesses on the court. It has been said over and over again ad nauseam, but the game appears to be easy for Russell. He slows the game down with the ball in his hands and simplifies some of the more difficult moves available. While the NBA will pose a far greater challenge moving forward, the ease and fluidity with which Russell plays the game helps to fuel his superstar projections.
Size: Russell has solid size for a guard at the next level, standing 6'5 with effective wingspan. That is the same size as one notable player to which Russell is often compared: James Harden. Although he definitely needs to get stronger and apply some body armor by way of muscle mass, Russell's frame should easily allow him to put on the requisite weight. Russell's size and added strength will allow him to withstand the long NBA season and the seemingly endless amount of hard fouls guards of his type and caliber sustain night after night. Additionally, Russell's size allows him to be an effective shooter over defenders closing in from the perimeter on catch and shoot opportunities. While his release point could be higher, he shouldn't have trouble shooting over defenders at the next level and continuing his superb outside shooting.
Confidence: Russell recently made waves at the Pre-Draft Combine when he stated in an interview, "I'm the best in the draft." Some may couch that comment in Russell's growing hubris thanks to a sterling freshman campaign. Those people, however, would be misguided in their characterization of Russell. Russell is a confident player both on and off the court. However, he has displayed his humility on numerous occasions and revels in his ability to include his teammates on the offensive end. Russell is an alpha dog on the court. That is exactly what the teams near the top of the lottery need. They are all desperately sore for a player who demands the ball in crunch time and can will his team to victory with brilliance, style, grace, and form. Russell has all of that in spades.
Vision: Russell's scoring prowess has been mentioned above and long documented since even before he stepped onto the court for the Buckeyes. However, it took a freshman season for most to appreciate his dominant passing ability and remarkable vision. At times, Russell appeared to be the best passer in college basketball. While his numbers boast 5 assists per game, a brief look at his tape shows Russell fitting passes through the most impossible openings leading to an easy bucket for teammates. One occasion in particular left the college basketball world in a daze. That filthy pass can be seen below. Sadly enough, a dazzling play by Russell resulting in a botched conversion at the bucket is an effective microcosm of the entire Buckeye season.
Athleticism: If there is one uniform criticism of Russell's game and translation to the NBA it is his perceived lack of elite athleticism. Russell isn't going to jump out of the gym like Blake Griffin or torch past defenders like Eric Bledsoe. However, being an elite athlete is not a prerequisite to blossoming into an NBA star. Russell will be able to rely on his rock solid handle, reliable shooting, and high basketball IQ to break down defenses and score in a myriad of ways. He won't supply many show stopping dunks in the lane, but he will surgically dissect defenses and either take a quality shot or find the open man. While questions on his athleticism are valid, it will not be enough to prevent Russell from ascending into the ranks of the NBA elite.
Defense: This is a weakness that can be written down for almost any player coming out of the draft not named Willie or Rondae. Most college players making the leap to the NBA have significant work to do in order to improve their defense. Russell is no exception. While he does maintain active hands on the defense end, Russell struggled to stay in front of defenders through most of the college basketball season. He wasn't a saloon door, but Russell didn't exactly make it overly difficult on opposing players. This could be a result of his lack of elite athleticism mentioned above. However, it is more likely that Russell had to shoulder such a significant offensive load for the Buckeyes that he needed to save his energy on the other end of the court. The good thing about improving defense in young players is that it is 80% effort. This is not to say Russell is going to be an elite defender. That is unlikely. However, if Russell puts in the work on and off the court, he will evolve into a passable defender.