How Good Will Russell Be?

By Chris Lauderback on June 28, 2014 at 8:15a
D'Angelo Russell has a chance to produce a special freshman season

With the recent news prized five-star recruit D'Angelo Russell has been academically cleared to join Thad Matta's squad, combined with the significant roster turnover following last season's 5th place finish in the B1G, the elite guard prospect could be in position to turn in one of the finest freshman seasons by a perimeter player in school history. 

The silky smooth lefty has the length and polished jumper coaches drool over in a shooting guard while possessing the ball-handling and passing skills to be a competent point guard at the big time college level. Beyond a skill-set that would ensure he saw the floor as a freshman at any program in the country, his chances to start and log heavy minutes in Columbus are strengthened by the fact Ohio State lost a boat load of perimeter minutes with the departures of Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross. 

Even better for Russell – and Ohio State fans – his strengths project to immediately address what were serious weaknesses of last year's team. As you'll painfully recall, last year's team was brick city from the outside, shooting 32% from beyond the three-point line with no Buckeye shooting it better than 35.5% and no player was particularly adept at creating anything consistently meaningful off the bounce especially in the half court. 

Russell brings the ability to shoot from distance, create off the dribble for either a legit pull-up jumper or a finish at the rim (thanks in large part to a nearly 6'9" wingspan), or if enough traffic collapses, dump off or kick out to an open teammate.

With Shannon Scott the starter at the point thanks to his own ball-handling prowess, stout man-to-man defense and the lack of an outside shot, Russell figures to slot right into the off-guard spot, joined by senior Sam Thompson on the wing with names like Kam Williams, Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop fighting for perimeter rotation minutes. Who starts at the four and five spots is up for discussion but guys like Marc Loving, Anthony Lee and Amir Williams figure to patrol the back line.

At the end of the day, despite that long list of names, Russell figures to see more than his fair of minutes and shots, allowing him to have a huge impact on the success (or failures) of the 2014-15 Buckeyes as a true freshman. 

For some perspective on what huge impact for a true freshman OSU perimeter player looks like, here's a snapshot of the six best seasons out of previous perimeter-playing Buckeye freshmen since such players became eligible back in 1972:

MICHAEL REDD 1997-98 30 37.9 3.0 2.0 43.8 30.3 657 21.9
JIMMY JACKSON 1989-90 30 34.5 3.7 1.3 49.9 35.6 482 16.1
KELVIN RANSEY 1976-77 25 31.6 2.8 0.8 40.8 N/A 327 13.1
MIKE CONLEY 2006-07 39 31.6 6.1 2.2 51.8 30.4 441 11.3
WILLIAM BUFORD 2008-09 33 29.3 1.1 0.8 44.8 36.1 372 11.3
EVAN TURNER 2007-08 37 27.1 2.6 1.3 47.3 33.3 314 8.5

[Side note: Any argument against Mike Conley being the best point guard in Ohio State history is invalid.]

While difficult to project how a true freshman will come in and perform, I believe it's realistic for Russell to make a run at a mid-teens points per game average that would compare favorably to the freshman scoring output seen from Jimmy Jackson and Kelvin Ransey. With 36 points and 27.3 shots per game lost with the departures of Ross, Smith Jr. and Craft combined with Matta potentially looking to push the ball a little more this season in an effort to create more points in transition, Russell should be set up to flourish in a system suited to his game. 

Redd's freshman mark of 21.9 ppg has stood the test of time

Conley shot the lights out from the floor at 51.8% because he was so mindful of his range and was able to get to his scoring spots at will. Russell won't challenge that figure but should be able to create plenty of good looks allowing him to generate a percentage in the mid-40's. That said, what could happen is Russell shooting 36% or better from distance and making a run at Daequan Cook's freshman record for three-pointers made of 54. 

It's interesting that of these six outstanding seasons turned in by freshman perimeter guys, only one of the teams lost less than 11 games over the course of the season. Conley's 2006-07 juggernaut went 35-4 en route to a national championship game appearance but the two next best seasons include Buford's 2008-09 team that went 22-11 and lost the Siena in the 1st round of the Dance followed by Turner's 2007-08 squad that finished 5th in the B1G before going on to win the NIT championship. Yay. 

Ohio State went just 16-11 during Ransey's freshman season and 17-13 during Jackson's rookie campaign with Redd's 1997-98 outfit easily the worst of the bunch going 8-22 with a supporting cast of Jon Sanderson, Jason Singleton, Ken Johnson and Carlos Davis. 

Certainly, Matta has designs on racking up another 20+ win season, being competitive in the conference race and building a team that is playing its best basketball come March.

For all of those goals to be realized, much will depend on just how impactful Russell can be at scoring the ball efficiently and in variety of ways while creating easy opportunities for his teammates. 


Comments Show All Comments

Knarcisi's picture

I knew Redd was tough as a freshman, but 38 minutes and 22ppg are insane. 

+11 HS
OSU069's picture

Russell will hopefully put up numbers like 14 PPG, 3 RPG, 3 APG, 44% field goal, 38% 3-Point percentage. 

+5 HS
ITWASME's picture

Can we talk about some of the other freshmen too? They DO happen to be pretty damn good as well and will make an impact. Not that I have anything against Russell just want to talk about some of the other guys as well

+7 HS
EvanstonBuckeye's picture

Yep. I look forward to seeing all of these guys on the court.

+1 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

I agree. But I also find it funny that there is little discussion nationally about Russell too.
But KBD will surprise people. I think the starting lineup will be Scott, Russell, Thompson, Lee and Amir. But KBD, Tate will be early off bench. I also think Kam should get more pub too. Sweetest tear drop and he can create for himself. Also shoots well from outside

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

+2 HS
ibuck's picture

What numbers will the new Buckeyes wear?

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Deadly Nuts's picture

Russell will wear 0 if his locker is correct.


+2 HS
DenBuck's picture

Hope he starts from day 1. Very excited to see some new faces this year. Should be a fun season. 

Buckeye For Life

TraSmith4's picture

Should be a fun team to watch, I hope they play uptempo and I hope we get at least 2 or 3 years out of these kids.

808buckeye's picture

We're going to be unstoppable

seize the carpe

+3 HS
mrspray's picture

An article about Braxton this morning got me really psyched for football, but after reading this, I'm ready for basketball to start now...

In case you're curious, it's Mr. Spray

+3 HS
TheShookster's picture

This is going to be a really fun season. And I think Russell and co. will stay for at least 2 years meaning the 2015 team could be unbelievably good.

He ain't even stretch doe!!

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

He will bring the energy every game - perfect timing with Craft gone. 

+1 HS
Tater_Schroeder's picture

It always feels like Thad is "reloading" every year. This is no different. I'm very excited to see this new group joining Scott and Thompson.


+2 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Wow, this is exciting.  I do wonder though if D'Angelo lives up to expectations if that means he'll be a one-and-done?

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+1 HS
irishfury's picture

Depends he has the chance to be a top ten pick.  I hope he stays for two years because next year is going to be a great class I think chance at nation champ.

Fort Seneca Steve's picture

Watching the recently completed High School National Championships, offensively D'Angelo is everything you stated.  Too bad the young man did not perform on the defensive end.  Seemed weak at that end of the court, but that was only watching him play 3 games...highly competitive games against some of the nation's high school best.  It seemed like every senior starter for every team was headed to a DI school.  Hope D'Angelo was more concerned about offense and left his "A Game" defense at home for the tournament.  

Before there was Larry Bird, there was "Hondo" John Havilcek! The Pride of Martins Ferry, Ohio!

+1 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

I watched those games too and I think he also performed in a All star game around the same time. When he started out his defense looked strong and he guarded his man all the way down the court like a glove and had a few steals. Those last 2 games his legs seemed to get worn down and you could tell he was conserving his energy. He was the leader on a loaded team and I think will have instant success here. He wont have to worry about getting worn down and carrying this team on his back. I am curious to see how successful his 3 will be at the college level because he had kind of a low awkward launch point. Curious to see if they try to change his delivery at all.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+1 HS
rosenbuck's picture

By the end of this season, I think this team will have surprised quite a few people.  They're really not as young as everyone insists, just inexperienced.  I see them being top 4 in the B1G and making a deep tourney run with some late-season momentum.  I also think Shannon is going to blow up this year, especially playing with a guard who can take some of the scoring onus off of him.  And of course, I will NEVER get enough Slam Thompson!

+2 HS
rosenbuck's picture

Also, any word on Trevor Thompson's appeal to play this year?  I know it was a longshot, but I haven't heard/read anything on that front.

+2 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

Not sure if its official but the ozone reported he will have to sit out this year.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+1 HS
Bolt's picture

[Side note: Any argument against Mike Conley being the best point guard in Ohio State history is invalid.]

Not a Fuss-Cheatham fan, huh? 

brutusbuckeye95's picture

Craft has to be in the argument... considering he is only the all-time leader in steals


TNBuckeye1421's picture

I found it odd that Kentucky did not offer him... was this because he was already committed? He is from Lexington and a consensus top 50 player at a position of need for Calipari.... strange. He looks like he can ball and with Slam Thompson, Marc Loving, and Bates Diop this season should be exciting!!! If we can just find a big man that can catch an entry pass....

Nutty's picture

He is actually from Louisville. Big difference if you're from the Blue Grass state.

brutusbuckeye95's picture

still wondering why we didn't target Ohio guys like Dakota Mathias (Purdue bound), Ahrens (going to MSU after not getting an OSU offer), Kennard (Duke bound) in favor of all these out of state guys.  Matta wouldn't have got Craft if not for the Tennessee recruiting violations.