The 2014/15 NCAA season has come to an end. Duke are this years national champions thanks to the play of their fantastic freshman. But now that the NCAA tournament has come to a close, everyone is looking to this year's NBA draft.
Almost everyone has predicted that either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor will go first and second, but after that it's unclear.
There are several prospects that teams could go for, but none is more is more tantalising than Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.
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Why the Hype
Russell has had a tremendous campaign with the Buckeyes, earning consensus 1st team All-American honours whilst leading all freshman in scoring with 19.3 points per game, along with averaging 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists. This, together with his 41.1% shooting from the three-point line, will have NBA scouts and GMs eager to draft the Ohio State prospect.
Today's NBA is a ball-handler's game. Nine out of the last ten players to win the MVP are their teams primary ball-handler. There are so many good point guards out there that you now need one in order to succeed. Out of the sixteen teams currently in playoff position, fifteen have a point guard who is either an All-Star or was a an All-Star consideration. The only one without such a point-guard is Houston, but they have James Harden who averages 7 assists a game. Russell has the characteristics of a typical modern-day combo guard.
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He is 6'5" with good ball-handling abilities, adept court-vision and a sweet shooting-stroke. He fits in perfectly with today's NBA because he can be very effective both on and off the ball. He has the passing instincts to get his teammates good looks and the ability to spot up behind the three-point line. He does need to get stronger in order to cope on defense but his size and length should be enough to deal with the onslaught for his first few years.
Two other guard prospects are projected to go high in the first round; Emmanuel Mudiay from China and Justice Winslow out of Duke. Both are excellent prospects with massive potential. Mudiay played in China due to academic problems with the NCAA and although he was injured he showcased his incredible talent.
At 6'5" and 200lbs he is a very good ball-handler gifted with tremendous athleticism and court-vision, but his jump shot is very questionable. He will be very effective on the ball, but is rather limited to just that role.
Winslow too showcased his incredible athleticism during the NCAA tournament and a is lock to be a prototypical NBA wing for many years. His defense and transition game is exceptional and he showed the ability to knock down open shots. But his free-throw percentage is a big red flag. At just 64.1% for a wing is a big concern for NBA teams. This will allow opposing defenses to foul him if he drives to the rim knowing points will be lost at the line.
Who Needs Him
Where players go in the draft is hugely affected by the draft lottery where chance determines who gets each pick. For example if the best prospect is a center but the team with the first pick already has a really good center they may draft another player.
However they could also trade their pick for another one lower down with some extras, or they could draft the best prospect and then trade him. At the moment the Philidelphia 76ers have the third worst record in the league which means they are likely to land the third pick. During the season they traded away Michael Carter-Williams, last year's Rookie of the Year, a move which surprised a lot of people myself included. Did they make that move with Russell in mind?
If Towns and Okafor are off the board then I predict that the next player taken will be Russell. He can play either guard position, defend either position and will be a quality player for years to come.
This year's MVP race is between Stephen Curry and James Harden, both of whom create offense for themselves and their teammates on the ball, but are also deadly shooters who can devastate defenses off the ball. Russell is exactly like that which is why he will be extremely effective in the NBA.