#Top5Protected Report will take a look at draft possibilities for the Phoenix Suns both with their own first-round pick and the Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick, which the Suns will own it falls outside of the top five. I'll be bringing you frequent posts on all of the players graded around this range of the draft and their fits in Phoenix.
PG/SG, 6'5", 175 lbs, Freshman (19 in late February)
33.0 MPG, 19.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 47.8 FG%, 44.5 3P%, 78.7 FT%
I apologize in advance for that I am about to do. I love D'Angelo Russell's game. I've had my daily swoon over him since about October and that's not going to stop until he retires in 2027 or whatever. I think he's going to be fantastic and if there's any sort of fallout at the guard spot I think this guy is #1 on the Suns board.
Russell came to Ohio State as a combo guard because there were hesitations as to whether or not he could run the point. Well, that was pretty wrong. Russell has had a meteoric rise up draft boards and its been worthy. He's a lights out shooter, a "holy sweet mother of everything you need to see this vine" passer, has the "smooth scoring lefty" gene in his DNA, is a great rebounder for a point guard, and just really understands how the game of basketball works. He is the only freshman in college basketball with a triple-double this season.
He reminds me of Steph Curry and James Harden. YEAH I SAID IT. Prepare for the gushing.
Russell is an elite scorer in college basketball and I think most of it translates to the NBA. He doesn't have an exceptionally quick handle, but it's deceptive and he can get you moving all the wrong ways. It's tight and he uses his misdirections with both that and his speed to create space for his shot.
He has a great understanding for when a defender isn't fully comprehending what is going on and that's when he destroys your soul. Many of his smaller matchups defensively have had this same situation of "oh crap he's backing me down in the post isn't he a shooter okay time to establish ground oh god not the stepbaaaaack" /scene.
Here's a vine worthy example of this in which this poor fella thought Russell was going to take the ball screen.
That's a late one possession game he's doing that in. The kid is nuts.
The thing that puts all of this together for Russell is his shooting ability. He's at an absurd 45% from three on 5 attempts a game right now and he uses that stroke all over the floor. It's in the post, midrange, behind the line, on the baseline, everywhere. He's got it all. Once he's got you thinking about that shooting as I said in the last bit, he has has the ability to blow by you and dunk on you with some surprising athleticism.
However, the one hesitation on Russell's offensive game has been getting to the free-throw line. At 6'5" and having the ability to read the floor (more on that in a minute) that he does he should be getting to the stripe way more than 3.9 attempts a game. That being said, he's going to get way stronger in the next couple of years and an optimist would like to think that means he would be more keen to attacking the rim.
You watch Russell score and you think "well there's a guy that's going to average 18 a game" and then you see him pass and you black out. Russell has these types of passes that only guys with pure and natural ability can do. I'm asking this honestly to a lot of people who watched Steve Nash, have you ever seen this angle before?
The ball is out of his hands and the man who is going to score isn't even in the picture yet.
While the passing ability is definitely there, he's got some insane court vision and feel for the floor. If there was ever a play to prove this...
I mean, how is that even possible? Russell has shown that he can run the point effectively and uses some beautiful passes to boost that level of play you want out of your leader.
Jeff Goodman at ESPN had a wonderful interview with three guys who guarded Russell this year (I highly recommend a full read if you have insider). The main thing that came across in this article was how surprised they were at not only his passing ability, but how much he was looking for his teammates despite the scoring guard pedigree. Richaud Pack out of Maryland said "he was looking for his teammates 99% of the time" and that "he's always scanning the court."
That's a pretty special thing to say about Russell considering the lack of overall talent he's playing with at Ohio State. I have no doubt about him being able to play point guard in the NBA.
Inconsistencies on both ends
This was the big knock on Russell entering Ohio State. In high school and at summer camps Russell was settling for jump shots and not getting to the basket as much as he should. He was taking some plays off on defense and was floating in and out of games.
This might be a red flag to some, but Russell has overcome most of this at Ohio State this season. He's shown his passing ability, but he's also running a ton of sets and hitting his teammates with those laser feeds.
Most scoring point guards like Russell in college (Curry being a recent example) don't show a real feel for the point guard position just yet. Believe it or not, Curry had a ton of growth from college to become the point guard he is today. However, I don't think Russell has as much to learn about the position at this stage. I think Russell has more of a feel for the position than Curry did in college and Curry spent 3 years at Davidson.
This isn't a dig at Curry at all, this is just an example of Russell's understanding for the position despite the combo guard concerns out of high school and his "gunner" tendencies. I see Russell sharing the ball as well as the group of scoring point guards currently in the league (Westbrook, Curry, Lillard, Bledsoe, etc.) and that's a huge plus. That conclusion under his "weakness" tells you something.
Fit In Phoenix
Remember when I said you were going to hate me? We've arrived. Unless the Suns have a large opening for a scoring guard off of the bench in the summer I do not see the fit here at all. With that being said, both Goran Dragic and Gerald Green are free agents after this season. It isn't crazy to see a situation where the Suns could use him.
Then again, even in a scenario of both Dragic and Green leaving in the summer, Russell is flying up draft boards and I see no way of him going outside of the top three and he could even go first overall. Unfortunately, I see this post as more of use to our friends over at Silver Screen & Roll. Unless you subscribe to the theory that all of these buzzer beater losses are boosting up the Suns karma for lottery night, Russell probably will not be available to them.
With all that being said, I haven't been this in love and sure of a prospect since Damian Lillard a few years ago. Lillard had the same rise in the draft process, as I prayed to the old gods and the new that he would somehow slip to the Suns (he soared from the mid-to-late first round to the top 8 through the process), but the Suns got Kendall Marshall instead, so that's fun!
This isn't an attempt to call me an almighty guru or anything, but can you really see a situation in which Russell doesn't succeed? I'm all in. At the very very least you are getting a fantastic shooter who can use his passing and scoring ability to be an offensive weapon off of the bench. However, at his highest potential he is the next breed of elite scoring point guard and I think that's where we are headed.