Every draft's got a riser. There's always somebody who flies up draft boards and rankings lists all year, some more out of nowhere than others.
Two years ago, it was Victor Oladipo, who gradually rose all season from a guy most considered to be a first round pick into the #2 pick in the draft. Last year, it was Elfrid Payton, who entered the season projected as a high 2nd round pick before rising to #10, where he became a former Sixer when Sam Hinkie entered Orlando and pillaged the city of all material possessions. (He allowed them to keep Universal Studios because he thought the Harry Potter movies strayed too far from the books.)
This year's riser needs only one name: D'Angelo.
D'Angelo Russell didn't get much buzz as a draft prospect prior to the season. He was the 18th ranked prospect on the Rivals 150 coming into the season, a five-star recruit out of Montverde Academy in Florida. After a solid showing at the McDonald's All-American Game, where he scored 11 points in 15 minutes, he wasn't on the radar as a first round draft pick on most boards, most ranking him as either a 2nd round prospect, or not at all, perhaps assuming he would spend multiple years at Ohio State.
That includes me, for the record. I spent about as much time thinking about D'Angelo Russell as a lottery pick as I spent thinking about when the Sixers were going to retire Clarence Weatherspoon's number. I didn't even mention a single Ohio State game in my preseason writeup of college games to watch.
Russell broke out as a big time player very quickly, largely because he quickly showed a set of skills that very few in this draft have. First off, he's a point guard in what's considered by most to be a horrendously thin draft for point guards. There were plenty of questions coming into the season about whether Russell was a point guard or a shooting guards, but he's silenced those questions. Secondly, Russell can flat out score. He's averaging 18.6 points per game, and shooting a very impressive 44% from three-point range. There's very few pure scorers in this draft, and Russell is one of them.
Today, he's ranked in the top 10 by most reputable draft experts (and me), including a move to #4 on the DraftExpress big board last Wednesday after Russell's strong game Tuesday night against Michigan. Russell is now very much on the radar, and is beginning to push Emmanuel Mudiay's status as the top guard in the draft.
First, let's talk about some things Russell does really well. As mentioned before, he's an excellent scorer, largely based on the fact that he's a great shooter. He's a lefty, and he's definitely very comfortably shooting from the left corner and left wing.
He's a brilliant and willing passer, as he demonstrated Saturday afternoon against Iowa when he set Twitter on fire with this absurd bounce pass. He's also a very strong rebounder for a guard, averaging 5.1 per game after a ridiculous 14-rebound effort on Saturday as well.
So he can shoot, he can pass, and he can rebound? Sounds like the perfect offensive weapon, right?
Here's where I'm concerned. He's not particularly good at the rim. He's got a great first step, and he'll frequently beat his defender into the lane. The problem is when he gets there, he usually settles for a floater rather than drive to the bucket. He averages less than four free throw attempts per game, and he doesn't seem to have a lot of strength to finish through contact. His frame could probably withstand some extra weight, but you're always worried about sapping some of his explosiveness with the weight.
The struggles at the rim also hurt his efficiency. He averages almost 19 points per game, but he also averages 14 shots per game. When his shot isn't there, he really struggles.
Defensively, he actually reminds me a lot of Michael Carter-Williams. He has the look of a good defender. He's big, he's long, and he'll get steals, averaging almost two per game. When he wants to toughen up as a one-on-one defender, he's very hard to get past for even the best guards. The question is consistency and his willingness to go hard on defense each and every play.
Ultimately, I love Russell as a prospect. His skill set is unlike anyone else's in this draft, or most drafts, quite frankly. I think a lot of his concerns are correctable, and he doesn't lack for athleticism. For my money, he's the best pure scorer in the draft, and he'd be quite the interesting fit on the Sixers next season. Previously, I had thought this to be a relatively unlikely event, but depending on how the lottery falls for the Sixers, he might be the perfect fit for them come draft night.
Mock The Sixers and Big Board
My big board hasn't changed since last week since I'm not THAT fickle. As is custom with WigginsWatch, it's time to Mock The Sixers, where, for the first time, we have to recognize the possibility that the Sixers might not draft #1.
3. Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong - Ultimately, I think Mudiay falls to three, and I would be thrilled to see him there. Mudiay would give the Sixers a complete player at point guard who would fit perfectly with Joel Embiid.
16. Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville - I have to give my guy MONTREZL some support this week. He's an ultra-long rebound fiend, even if that three point shot he keeps trying to work on isn't quite there yet.