D'Angelo Russell the basketball player doubles as content creator for sports blogs and websites alike, which should explain where we're at with him. He produces these highly re-watchable plays that you know will become a GIF to be published and promoted on social media. Even if you saw it live, his plays beg multiple viewings -- peering closer and closer each time, attempting to distill at some point how did he do that? Generally, it never becomes any clearer and transforms into a throwing of hands and marveling at the dude.
I mean, watch:
Sorry, I’m ahead of myself here. Let’s rewind a bit on Russell. When he arrived at Ohio State, Russell didn’t necessarily come in as one of the heralded freshmen for the season. Some buzz, but not real hype. He succeeded early this season, scoring in bunches, though he looked a bit jittery at times. Losses against Louisville, North Carolina and Iowa where Russell shot 30 percent or below cracked the sheen.
More and more though, as the season has progressed, Russell continues to shed his frosh tendencies. Very quickly, Russell has asserted himself as Ohio State’s ‘guy,’ and accepting greater responsibilities running the offense. Russell and senior Shannon Scott share touches, both bringing the ball up the court routinely, but it’s Russell who fuels the Buckeyes' offense.
He acts as a combo guard, mostly, switching into the point guard role depending on what the defense gives him. He has an uncanny basketball IQ for his age, able to see where and how to attack the defense on a given play. Because he has the vision to create for others, the driving ability to score if it’s there and a knockdown 3-point shot (he’s shooting 44.5 percent for the season), placing the ball in Russell’s hands is generally a good idea. He's averaging 19.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, reinforcing the notioin that he can do it all. Rising to the top of NBA draft boards because of his quick-release jump shot and stabilized, smart play, Russell has also surged into the player of the year discussion.
He's battling with Jerian Grant for the nation’s best guard title, but their basketball mentalities couldn’t be more different: Grant looks like he takes what he wants on the court while Russell comes off as more a tactician, taking what’s there.
But it’s pretty clear that Russell sees what’s on the court differently than nearly everyone else playing. He sees what will be instead of what is. How else to explain a pass like this?
Now we’re back where we started with Russell, re-watching again and again, attempting to understand what he’s doing. That wasn’t even the first time he nailed a corkscrew bounce pass like that. Previously, his teammate simply didn’t finish the play, probably as stunned as the rest of us how Russell even saw that lane.
What’s more is Russell keeps improving, eliminating mistakes and evolving into a more effective player. He recorded the fourth triple-double in Ohio State history with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Sunday’s win at Rutgers. In addition, he’s becoming even more confident.
“Personally, I feel like it's scary for my opponents because I feel like I get better in every game," Russell said Tuesday afternoon. "When we practice, I learn something that I didn't know going into that practice or game. It's scary because I feel it. I get better every game.”
More like psychological thriller scary than slasher horror, but you get the point. As D’Angelo Russell rises, so too does Ohio State. Whether he can continue progressing at this rate, no one knows, but one thing’s for sure: We’ll be watching.
Naismith Power Rankings
Each week, we’ll rank the top players in the Naismith race. These rankings are fluid and mostly for fun, but they matter ... to someone.
1) Frank Kaminsky -- Since returning from his concussion, Frank the everything-but Tank has averaged 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds during a seven-game win streak. With Kaminsky at its helm, Wisconsin looks unstoppable. Like an everything-but Tank.
2) Jahlil Okafor -- Okafor has returned from the stratosphere the past week or so, seeming more mortal than previously. But the switching of rankings between Okafor and Kamsinky is more about Kamisnky playing out of his mind than anything else.
3) D’Angelo Russell -- An interesting subplot has developed to the main player of the year narrative: Can Russell somehow usurp freshman of the year from Okafor? If they both continue playing how they have been, it’s possible.
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