NBA Draft Scouting Report: D’Angelo Russell

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Prospect Weaknesses:

As enjoyable a prospect as Russell is to evaluate, he is not without his faults. While he is still maturing and evolving as far as progressing towards a finished product, there are areas Russell’s make-up that he will never be able to overcome given physical limitations. For as advanced as his game is at this stage of his career, one could argue that his ‘ceiling’ may be lower than those prospects who possess elite athleticism. Those individuals can smooth out areas of their game they may lack in. Russell cannot develop the physical tools he lacks.

The biggest sticking point for Russell’s critics is his struggles against top-tier competition. For all the times Russell appeared in a class of his own in comparison to a good portion of the teams he played against, those opponents who boasted length and athleticism to address him defensively often gave him fits. 97.3 Sixers reporter Derek Bodner, who has sifted through hours of Russell’s game video and thus is a far more credible critic than this writer, provided insight on that concern.

"The end result was Russell struggling to turn the corner against elite defenders. How he’ll do against the long, athletic defenders in the NBA? It’s a very real concern of mine. I’ve referenced the table below numerous times in the past, but the fact that Russell shot only 40.4% from two point range against top-100 defenses concerns me greatly, at least when I’m trying to project an elite scorer in the NBA. Competition Record Mins/g Points/g FG% 3PT% 2PT% Assists/g TO/g Top 100 8-9 35.6 17.7 37.9% 34.8% 40.4% 4.4 3 Outside of top 100 16-2 32.4 20.8 52.2% 47.4% 56.4% 5.6 2.8"

Especially in his final collegiate game, where Arizona tabbed Philadelphia native and fellow draft prospect Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the primary defender on him, Russell could hardly operate to the level those paying attention had grown accustomed to. As Bodner mentions, the NBA is a significant jump in terms of the types of athletes a player will face on a nightly basis. Considering he would likely be the Sixers primary perimeter scoring option were they to draft him, Russell would likely be going up against the opposition’s top wing defender every night.

For as much as his being left-handed will prove advantageous throughout his career, Russell will have to develop his right in a big way if he expects to progress at the NBA level. Bodner elaborated on that area of concern as he did with Russell’s struggles against top-end competition.

"He compounds this by having a sorely underdeveloped right hand. This is most evident when finishing at the rim, when Russell avoids using his right hand almost at all costs, even in situations when using his left hand brings him right into the path of a shot blocker, or gives him an awkward attempt with a poor angle. It’s not just the ineffectiveness of his right hand, it’s also his unwillingness to even attempt to use it. That underdeveloped right hand shows up in his ball handling as well. Russell will, at times, go right, but it’s almost always to setup a crossover back to his left. When the defense keys on taking away his ability to go back left the result was usually Russell settling for a bad shot."

More-so than some of the other teams drafting in a position where they could land Russell, the Sixers seem to have some pieces in place to combat his apparent weaknesses as a prospect. Depending on his health, Joel Embiid would likely be the focal point of the Sixers offensive attack. Though he is still a work-in-progress offensively, Nerlens Noel flashed progression in that area enough in last year to ease those concerns for the time being. Pending his arrival, Dario Saric appears to be as offensively advanced a forward as anyone in this draft class.

Every draft prospect has weaknesses that are magnified in the evaluation process. It is those players who do not rest on their laurels that shake the notion that these deficiencies will prevent them from being a good player. Russell will probably have to work harder than most, given his limited physicality, to find ways around how teams have exposed those areas in the past. He has said all the right things so far and appears to have a good head on his shoulders, but dealing with struggles for someone who rarely has had to is a real test for a teenager having just been handed millions of dollars.