D’Angelo Russell – A James Harden in the making?

D'Angelo Russell could be the next big combo-guard to make a name for himself in the NBA. (Photo credit to WallStreetJournal.net
D’Angelo Russell could be the next big combo-guard to make a name for himself in the NBA. (Photo credit to WallStreetJournal.net

Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell had one heck of a freshman season.

The smooth lefty averaged 19.3 points per game, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists in his only season with the Buckeyes.

He will be one of the top picks in the draft, but what is his ceiling? 

Russell’s game is a lot of substance and flash. He reminds me a lot of James Harden with the way he shoots and passes the ball. Like Harden, Russell is so smooth when the ball is in his hands. Making plays is something that seems second nature to him, and it’s something he is very good at doing.

I’ve seen him play one whole game and parts of five other games this past season, and I was extremely impressed. I didn’t hear much about him in the early part of the season and that’s mostly because I don’t pay much attention to college basketball. But he caught my attention midway through the college basketball season.

I watched the entire Ohio State/Minnesota game, the game where Russell went off for 25 points in the first half on 10-of-12 shooting. He ended up with only 27 points, but he showcased explosive scoring ability in that game and helped his team get the victory as he added five assists to go along with his 27 points.

Russell had 21 games in which he recorded at least five assists and rebounds, and 16 games of 20 points or more.

NBADraft.net compares Russell to the likes of Brandon Roy and Manu Ginobili. I see some Ginobili in his game because he is very shifty when driving to the basket. He will probably turn out to be a better player than both Roy and Ginobili. He is also more athletic and explosive than both.

Very few players can score the way Harden is able to score, and I dot think Russell will come close to Harden in that regard. However, I do think Russell has a chance to equal Harden’s playmaking ability. Ginobili was a good passer in his early days, but Russell is already on another level and he hasn’t even entered the league. Russell is a fancy, fundamental passer. He makes the simplest plays look extra special. He can create for others and delivers passes that are right on the money.

He loves to pull up in transition, sort of like what Stephen Curry does, although he might not be doing much of that in the NBA because teams do a good job of getting back on defense. But he has shown a natural ability to hit pull-up three-pointers, even if a defender is right in his face. His shot is so quick, like Curry’s, that defenders have a difficult time reacting that quickly. He can also get past defenders in transition. He will win most foot races to the basket, and if he doesn’t, there is a good chance he will be headed to the line.

He has a very quick and smooth release on his jumper, and he doesn’t need much space to get it off. He hardly elevates on his jumper and that could be a concern when he plays against bigger, longer and stronger players.

He isn’t quite a point guard or quite a shooting guard. When Harden first came into the league, he was very good at hitting shots off screens. Fast-forward, now Harden dominates the ball the majority of the time he is in the game. I see Russell being the same type of player. I think Russell will be a bit better off the ball, though.

Being a lefty will help him because lefties always seem to have a bit of an advantage. No matter how much they practice it, right-handed players are not used to moving to their right when on defense and, in the process, are significantly slower to react. Harden and Ginobili aren’t the quickest players, but deception propels them. Russell has a lot of deception.

He has good length (6-foot-5) and he will surely put on more weight. He is listed at 180 pounds, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get to at least 200, maybe even 215.

I see Harden as his ceiling. I think he has the abilities and tools to be that good. He can score, pass, rebound, and will be a solid defender. I believe that he could even become a very good defender, probably not Tony Allen-good, but I think he will be a combination of Allen and DeMarre Carroll.

I do agree with NBADraft.net in saying that he could end up like Roy, but I believe that Russell’s floor is Roy. I don’t think there is anyway he is any less than that during his career. He will be a favorite for Rookie of the Year as soon as soon as he steps on the court.

I like a lot of things about his game. He doesn’t lack confidence and is fearless.

He should have a long and prosperous NBA career.


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