Locking in on D’Angelo Russell is a Misguided Approach for Sixers Fans


Since Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery went to its final commercial break, an unofficial indicator that the Sixers had indeed secured a top-three selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, one name has been linked to Philadelphia far more than any other: D’Angelo Russell. The freshman combo guard out of Ohio State, consistently lumped in alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor as this year’s top-tier of prospects, is an attractive enough player that there were even some in the city who feared the Sixers winning the lottery and passing up the guard for yet another front court player with their first round pick. Though nothing is set in stone in these early stages of the pre-draft process, many figure that the Timberwolves and Lakers will use their first and second selections to scoop up the two potential cornerstone big men in Towns and Okafor, conveniently leaving Philadelphia with their star point guard of the future.

Coming from the opinion of someone who has done zero professional scouting and bases any evaluation on what’s available to everyone else willing to seek out information and material, D’Angelo Russell is worthy of top-three consideration. In addition to his already tantalizing skill-set, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, Russell possesses a rare level of instinct on the court that is impossible to quantify, yet front office personnel will spend entire careers trying to identify indicators of how to find those individuals who seem to be a step ahead of the game. Stephen Curry, the 2015 NBA MVP is a classic example of a player who, despite lack of the elite level athleticism that has taken over the game, defies the ‘norms’ of today’s game by dominating it on his own terms. Curry also had a lengthy college career and time to cultivate his uncanny repertoire en route to his ascension to one of the league’s best.

Odds are D’Angelo Russell won’t ever achieve the level of success Stephen Curry already has in his short career. That being said, Russell did some things on the court in his one season with Ohio State that make it difficult to conjure another name when it comes to making comparisons.

There weren’t many players in college basketball this past season who were more enjoyable to watch on a game-to-game basis. Hitching a relatively mediocre Buckeye team to his back, Russell led Ohio State to an NCAA Tournament appearance and a second round win over VCU before bowing out to a loaded Arizona team. He was named to the Big Ten’s First Team and won Freshman of the Year in the conference. The Sixers have allocated most of their resources to the building of their front court of the future and need some guard talent to round out the core. Russell is almost the polar opposite type of player that Michael Carter-Williams, once looked upon as the point guard of the future in Philadelphia, is as far as his strengths and weaknesses go. Seems like a perfect fit for the Sixers, right?

When the dust clears, D’Angelo Russell very well may end up with the Sixers on draft night. I would even go as far as saying that it’s more likely than not the case, should the top three picks play out as they are currently being projected as. As someone who has been as invested in the rebuild of the organization since Sam Hinkie’s arrival, I know that building up hopes for one player can lead to a night of disappointment. Instead of locking in on D’Angelo Russell as the ‘only’ target the organization can leave draft night with and deem it a success, fans should instead use the time leading up to the draft to observe how the Sixers go about their evaluations and head into June 25th knowing the front office did everything possible to make the correct selection.

Opinions on Sam Hinkie aside, one cannot discredit the amount of work he puts in as a talent evaluator. Hinkie was reportedly the only general manager in the league to make the trip to China to watch Emmanuel Mudiay play professionally. In the weeks leading up to last year’s draft, the Sixers brought in dozens of players from every possible tier of the draft. Following the events of Tuesday evening, Hinkie asked about the advantages of in-person evaluation and shed some light on how his commitment to gathering this intel affects his role as a general manager:

"“Every bit of evaluation in person really helps. I’m a big believe in that. I don’t spend enough time in Philly sometimes because of that. Because I’m on the road a lot. It’s important. Chicago was great. Chance to see lots and lots of guys, primarily second round guys. not entirely play. Better to see them play than just shoot, better to see them shoot than just do nothing, better to interview them that to not be in the same city as them. We’ll take the most information we can get wherever we can get it.”"

As it stands, the Sixers are not an attractive enough free agent location to rest on their laurels and wait for their reputation to ‘recruit’ reinforcements. If this two-year process has revealed anything about Sam Hinkie, it’s how aware he is of this reality and what he has to do to try to work around the obstacles he is presented with as well as eliminate them in the future. For the time being, the only way he can do that is to identify and acquire potential top-end talent through the draft and compile enough additional resources so that, when the opportunity presents itself, Hinkie will have the adequate ammunition to potentially land an established superstar. The Western Conference Finals boast a pair of organizations who were built as such and several other participants in this year’s playoffs worked around a similar model. The Knicks and Lakers enter the 2015 offseason banking on their notoriety and high-profile status to replenish their rosters. Sam Hinkie does not have that luxury.

What Hinkie does have is, for the time being, an organization-wide commitment to the arduous process he set out upon arrival to bring the Sixers out of the purgatory that is NBA’s middle-tier. Countless teams have drafted in the lottery for nearly a decade and still haven’t managed to parlay that talent into any sort of success. Hinkie’s approach, based on what we’ve seen to this point in his regime, is predicated on relentless work in terms of evaluation and creativity as far as roster/asset management goes. The term, ‘leave no stone unturned’ almost certainly applies to Hinkie’s style as a general manager.

For these reasons, Sixers fans should think long and hard before falling in love with D’Angelo Russell like Eagles fans did with Marcus Mariota. Though it is far more likely (and logical) for the Sixers to draft Russell than the Eagles to have been able to acquire Mariota, locking in on one player for the draft is an easy way to ruin a draft night. Don’t shortchange yourself by focusing all of your effort and desire over the next month on one player. Instead take solace in the fact that the Sixers boast a committed, united, relentless faction whose sole priority over the next 34 days is to identify the player (s) best suited to bring this team to an elite level in years to come. If D’Angelo Russell does end up raising a Sixers jersey on draft night, you can bet it’s because Sam Hinkie and his staff went through every possible measure to determine him as worthy of the 3rd overall pick.