While 19-year-old point guard D’Angelo Russell is widely considered one of the top five prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft, nobody is quite sure where he’ll land on June 25.
Russell, who has compared his game to Stephen Curry’s, is one of the most coveted prospects in the draft. According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, most NBA teams’ advanced analytical ranking systems have Russell listed as the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the draft.
He doesn’t have as much potential as Karl-Anthony Towns, he’s not as mysterious as Emmanuel Mudiay, and he doesn’t have the boom-or-bust intrigue of Kristaps Porzingis. But Russell may be the closest prospect to a “sure thing,” which puts into question how many teams will opt for the safe pick or the mystery (and potential high reward) in players like Mudiay or Porzingis.
Russell could go as high No. 2 to the Lakers or he could fall to the Knicks at No. 4. While that doesn’t seem like a wide variety of options, where he lands could shake up several other teams’ drafts.
Russell recently canceled his workout with the 76ers, causing some to wonder if he’d been given some kind of guarantee to be picked by the Lakers at No. 2 (it’s widely assumed the Minnesota Timberwolves will take Towns or Jahlil Okafor at No. 1). Though Russell was reportedly just sick, the idea of him jumping to No. 2 in the draft causes a snowball effect for the other teams.
If Russell goes No. 2, then either Towns or Okafor will be available at No. 3. Both prospects are considered potentially franchise-changing big men, but if there’s a team who doesn’t need one, it’s the Philadelphia 76ers, who have taken three big men — Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric — in the past two lotteries. It seems unlikely that they’d let players as good as Towns or Okafor go by them, but the Sixers and their abundance of big men are the only team where this is plausible.
The Sixers also have a long, steady trajectory on their rebuilding timeline, and are said to be intrigued by Mudiay and Porzingis, both of whom may need a few years to develop in the NBA. If the Sixers bite on one of them at No. 3, a big man like Okafor could fall all the way to the Knicks at No. 4.
If Towns and Okafor go in the top two, then it makes the 76ers the decision-makers for much of the draft. If they choose Mudiay, many people feel Russell is a lock go to the Knicks. If the Sixers take a bigger swing for Porzingis (which is possible because of his unique skill set as a big man), Russell could go for No. 4, leaving Mudiay next. The Orlando Magic already have a young backcourt in place, so if they pass on Mudiay at No. 5, he could fall all the way to the Sacramento Kings at No. 6 — a far drop for one of the most talented players in the draft.
Russell is the key here, and it all depends on how much teams value his skills. He’s a great ball-handler, an elite shooter (41% from three in college), has good size and great court vision. However, Russell’s athleticism has been questioned and he doesn’t have the ceiling on defence of Mudiay, who’s even bigger, stronger, and more explosive.
Russell is an undeniably intriguing prospect. He made several incredible passes this year that had the NBA world drooling over how he could develop as a playmaker in the future:
Will teams see Russell’s strengths as too good to pass up, or will they opt for the high-risk, high-reward prospects like Mudiay or Porzingis, thinking they could find players like Russell elsewhere in the draft or free agency?
While Russell will almost surely be a top-four pick, where exactly he goes could be a key deciding factor in how the top of the draft shakes out.
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