In the weeks leading into the draft, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion the Lakers would select whichever big man the Minnesota Timberwolves did not select. This was presumed to be Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as Karl Anthony Towns began to solidify himself as the top player on most GM’s draft boards.
As time passed, however, Ohio St. point guard D’Angelo Russell gained momentum as a real option. And on Thursday night, that momentum turned into truth as the Lakers passed on the big man to select the guard instead.
If the Los Angeles Lakers draft Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell on Thursday night, as is the increasing likelihood, it will be for one simple reason.
They believe he is a star.
Although the Lakers respect Jahlil Okafor’s size and skill (his defensive potential, not so much), momentum and consensus have been growing in the front office that Russell, not Okafor, is the special one.
It’s not really so much the shift of the modern game toward the perimeter. This massive decision was always going to be about specific individuals, not the positions they play, and the vibe from Russell has been that he fits the mold of a leader, a winner and a Laker.
Only time will tell if Russell is the right choice. I do believe, however, he is a fantastic talent as I noted in my player preview when questioning if he would be worth the #2 pick:
To put it bluntly, Russell is a fantastic offensive player who really can do it all on that end of the floor. He possesses a smooth, refined game with equal parts savvy and moxie to be able to hurt defenses all over the floor with his scoring and ability to create shots for his teammates. Combine his skill level with his excellent size (6’5?) and length (6’9.75? wingspan) and you quickly see why scouts salivate over his prospects at the next level.
When watching tape on Russell, his scoring ability instantly stands out. His jumper is smooth and comes with a quick release. He has range beyond the NBA three point line, but has real comfort level getting into the mid-range, separating from his man, and hitting jumpers in the 15-18 foot range. Further, when defenders crowd him, he has a good enough handle to get into the paint and either finish with a floater or get all the way to the rim for a bucket. Not to mention he can do excellent work off the ball as a spot up shooter or as a worker off screens as well. Being able to score in so many ways and at all three levels of the offense will serve him well in the NBA as he should be able to keep defenses off balance by not allowing them to key in on a single aspect of his game.
The most impressive part of his offensive game, however, might just be his court vision and passing ability. It’s clear Russell has a high basketball IQ. He can see how defenses are moving within their scheme and then has an ability to think one or two steps ahead to deliver a pass to an open teammate.
One of the keys to being a successful point guard in the league is the ability to make the “next level” pass when defenses take away first and second reads. Many guards never truly master this skill, but Russell already looks to have this part of the game in his tool-kit after only a single college season. The complex skip passes, delayed entries to diving big men, and “hockey” passes where he’s making the pass which leads to the pass for the assist are all part of his arsenal, showing an acumen for passing which is rare in a prospect his age. His willingness to accept pressure from defenses and be a willing passer out of that pressure with the poise he does is just fantastic.
Ultimately, I do believe Russell is worth the pick the Lakers used on him. He has some growing to do, but that’s true of every 19 year old prospect available in this draft. I’m happy to say, though, that he will do that growing as a Los Angeles Laker.