"Damn he's dangerous." That was one of the first thoughts that sprung into my head while watching film of D'Angelo Russell out of Ohio State. The 6'5" lefty guard with a 6'8.5" wingspan is dominating his peers, putting up 19 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists while shooting 43 percent from deep. Russell was a five-star recruit heading into the season, as ranked by Rivals.com, and he's now widely considered a top-five lock in the 2015 NBA Draft if he declares.
The Los Angeles Lakers should have their attention on Russell every time he steps on the court. The trade deadline may have been uneventful for the Lakers, but it wasn't without consequence. Brandon Knight, Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson all finding new homes at the deadline significantly reduces their availability this summer, putting LA in a tight position at point guard once again. Picking through the remaining free agent point guards breaks down to a moment where debating between Gary Neal and Mo Williams becomes soul crushing.
With a top-five pick in hand, though, the Lakers have a chance to address this with a lottery-talent player.
Forget that Russell is excellent by the numbers. Never mind 21 percent of his offense -- second-highest to transition -- is out of pick-and-roll sets, and he's putting up an impressive .971 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Turn a blind eye to his efficient .594 true shooting percentage. Just watch him play.
Watch him attack the mismatch out of a screen, put his shoulder down, and finish with his left:
Seeing is believing.
DraftExpress has Russell listed as the No. 2 prospect right now, behind Jahlil Okafor and ahead of Emmanuel Mudiay. Several mock drafts have him as the first non-big man off the board, and his stock should only rise if he continues this level of play. Russell has an obvious recency bias while Mudiay is inactive after a short stint in China, but that takes nothing away from how high the sky seems for D'Angelo. With the current Lakers point guard drought taking over Southern California, Russell is a tropical storm.
It's worth keeping things in perspective with any tantalizing prospect. There will be plenty of debate about what the Lakers should do with the top-five pick and it's not even clear if the team will hold onto the spot. On the other hand, this whole conversation could be moot if the Lakers ping-pong their way into the top pick. They'd have to take Okafor right?
Anything is possible when you start dreaming. There's no telling if D'Angelo Russell is the next big-time point guard to break into the NBA. The league is flooded with young talent at the position and it seems like a matter of time until the Lakers finally find that kind of player.
Russell is just one of a group of prospects that are going to be dissected every which way for the next four months, well before they put a draft cap on their heads. With any luck Mitch Kupchak and company will be calling in their next building block in Brooklyn, and potential turns into reality for the Lakers for the first time in a long time. Getting a chance at a player like this wouldn't be a bad return on investment for suffering through a new franchise worst season, would it?
We'll go over all of the numbers and nuances to Russell's game -- like his fantastic passing ability to go with his scoring -- in the coming weeks. For now, though, let this be a chance to get familiar with this wizard of the Buckeyes. Former Lakers assistant coach Eddie Jordan, who moved on to take over coaching duties at Rutgers, took the time to do just that. What Jordan found, he told media, kept him up at night in preparation, according to Jerry Carino of My Central Jersey:
"I watched him on tape. The more I watched him, the less sleep I got. He's calm. He sees everything. He's patient, he delivers, he reads the defense and he's got a real smooth game about himself. The kid's going to have a great future."
Russell had just finished putting together a triple-double against Rutgers.
As for a description of his approach to the game, his thoughts on being the smartest player on the floor in an interview with DraftExpress is as good an indication as any that Russell wants to be excellent at the highest level:
"People say I'm a silky smooth scoring guard that can score the ball, fill it up really fast. I feel like I'm more.... I try to be the smartest guy on the floor. If the ball is in my hand or not in my hand, I try to be the smartest guy. I feel like that takes your game to the next level."
Russell can do a lotta bit of everything on the court, has great size, and is trying to lean on his basketball IQ to give him an edge on the court. Sounds like a certain someone who prides himself on playing chess, not checkers, on the hardwood. He's the type of player with the on-court talent and upstairs smarts that can both control or take over an offense. It's far too early to tell just how good D'Angelo is, but the potential he's shown is intoxicating.
And maybe that's what so important to keep in mind. No matter who the Lakers end up with, so long as that top-five pick stays in Los Angeles, they are going to get a heckuva player. Russell has seen his stock rise the most through the first half of the college season, and he deserves all of the attention he'll undoubtedly get heading into the draft lottery.
If you don't know, now you know.