The NBA Draft is just about exactly a month away and mock drafts and big boards are abound. Many mock drafts have either Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky power forward Karl-Anthony Towns going #1 overall. Many big boards say the exact same thing: Either Towns or Okafor is the best player in the draft. Personally, I would take Towns over Okafor for various reasons, but I really don’t think that’s the conversation we should be having here. I think that the best player in the draft is neither Towns or Okafor: It’s Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell.
First, let’s look at Russell physically. Russell is tall for a point guard, at 6-foot-5. While his frame is only at 180 pounds right now, that should fill out over time. While these are positives, there is one large, glaring negative with Russell: athleticism. He does not get high off the ground, and some see this as the one trait or quality that will serve to doom his career. However, he realizes this, and he plays as a low to the ground player, with a solid mid-range jumper and floater game. Also, his basketball IQ is through the roof, routinely seeing plays before they develop and making the simple play.
Second of all, Russell is easily the most offensively polished player in the draft. He is a pretty good post player, occasionally using his size to post up smaller guards. Also, he has the potential to be a very good shooter in the NBA. While his shot is streaky, he can develop it; what also helps is that he’s just 19 years old. He’s a versatile scorer, too, using all aspects of his offensive game to score. He is also an incredibly unselfish player who passes to open teammates. Along these lines, he is a very good rebounder, and after getting a rebound, he uses his IQ and unselfishness to push the ball ahead in transition, which creates a chance for open teammates at the other end.
What will hold him back, as I mentioned earlier, is his lack of explosiveness and athleticism. Because of this, he consistently avoids contact at the rim and relies far too heavily on his floater. He will most likely also struggle against size and shot blocking defenders at the NBA level, which will force him to take too many jump shots. Taking too many jump shots, however, will force him to work hard on that shot, which has the potential to get much better. Also, he has lapses on defense. He is too often caught watching the ball on defense and sometimes lacks the effort necessary on an every-night basis in the NBA. However, this should improve with time and repetition, and Russell has the upside and potential to be a good defender at the next level.
Finally, the biggest positive that goes along with Russell is his swagger and confidence. When he was asked at the NBA Draft Combine why teams should be interested and/or draft him, he said succinctly:
He’s right. On an Ohio St. team that struggled at points last season, he was willing to shoulder the load on offense to try to get his team back into the game. While his game isn’t all the way there yet, that’s okay, because no player in the draft’s game is. Some may say that Towns is the best player in the draft, but he is really inconsistent in all areas of his game, and while not an unproven player, is a bigger risk who will take much more time to develop. Some may have Okafor at #1 on their boards, he is not a great defender and is in-explosive, just like Russell. Those people can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class. In most mock drafts, Russell is going to Philadelphia at #3. This is the perfect situation for him, and he has the potential to blossom there. Actually, he has the potential to blossom anywhere he goes. I think of him as a less explosive version of Damian Lillard; can score in bunches while setting up teammates all the while. People who favor Okafor or Towns can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class.
And here’s why: he’s the best player in the draft.