Right atop this year’s draft class among giants like Towns, Okafor, and Porzingis are a pair of guards that hope to hear their names called in the top 5 on draft night. Both players are a year out of high school, but followed a drastically different path to land a spot in the green room this Thursday. D'Angelo Russell made an emphatic debut for Ohio State at the NCAA ranks, and dazzled audiences with his great vision, open court speed, and deadly shooting stroke. Emmanuel Mudiay originally was slotted to join Larry Brown’s SMU team, but after some eligibility questions, he bolted to China, and put up extremely good numbers by way of his great size and athletic ability. For teams in the top 5 there’s a lot to take into consideration, and both Russell and Mudiay can make a solid case for the top guard in the 2015 draft class.
Size and Measurements
In terms of guard size, D’Angelo Russell has really good measurements for an NBA point guard. His shooting stroke also gives him the ability to play the off guard spot, and at 6’5’’ in shoes Russell measures up to be a pretty good sized shooting guard. From an NBA standpoint his 6’9.75’’ wingspan and 8’6’’ standing reach really reinforce how large he’d be at the point guard spot, and weighing in at 193 pounds, he’s got a nice foundation to add weight as he matures.
When looking at a combo guard as large as D’Angelo, it’s hard to really be too critical. He’d measure up at an elite level if his team chose to line him up as a point guard, and from a shooting guard’s perspective he hits right at that range which is really pretty solid. As an off guard weighing 193 pounds, he will have to continue to work on his strength and frame. Many of the two guards that roam the NBA hardwood are around 220 pounds and extremely strong, but again, this can be improved upon unlike a undesirable wingspan or standing reach. Russell’s length, and height are top notch for an NBA player with his style of game.
When looking at the tape, Emmanuel Mudiay also measures out very favorably. While not at the Combine in Chicago, like Russell, Emmanuel also stood 6’5’’ in shoes, at the 2014 Hoop Summit. He also possesses a sturdy frame that already carries 200 pounds pretty easily, and has room to mature over time without sacrificing speed. Mudiay also has long arms, which helped him measure a 6’8.5’’ wingspan and a 8’4’’ standing reach.
As an NBA point guard, the former Chinese pro also measures out at a high level for his position. While his wingspan and standing reach are good, I wouldn’t quite consider his wingspan and standing reach elite, but his height and the way he carries a solid 200 pounds cannot be denied. Again, when analyzing size, Mudiay leaves little to be desired, especially because he’s going to be primarily a point guard due to his lack of jump shooting acumen.
The tale of the tape gives D’Angelo Russell a slight advantage over Emmanuel Mudiay. Both players are 6’5’’ in shoes, and while Emmanuel Mudiay does have the weight advantage, the former Buckeye’s edge in wingspan and standing reach make him that much more appealing. Standing reach, and wingspan are two of the most important numbers when analyzing a prospect’s size. Those two edges really come in handy on the glass, playing defense, and at the point a player releases his shot. This duo of guard prospects don’t leave a lot to be desired in terms of size, but D’Angelo is just a tad longer, and his advantage propels him to a victory in the measurements category.
Edge – Even
All season long, D’Angelo Russell excelled in transition, in part because of his dynamic passing ability, but also due to his quickness. While not a player that overwhelms you with athletic ability or strength, Russell is very quick, both laterally, and when taking off down the court. When you look at how he leaps, he’s not a guy that you project to be a real high riser, but in reality, he gets off the ground pretty well, as well as pretty quickly. Russell’s athletic package isn’t one that’s going to wow scouts, but his quickness, jumping ability and end speed is not going to be a knock either. The kid can play, and while he could stand to gain strength, and work on his overall athletic package, this is an area in which the majority of players coming into the NBA improve upon during their first few years.
For an NBA point guard there is no more important athletic trait than speed, and Emmanuel Mudiay has a great deal of natural ability in terms of movement. He’s a big guy, but can really get up and run the floor, which is a reason he was able to excel in the fast paced style of play showcased in the China. His fast twitch prowess also gives him good lateral speed, and the ability to start and stop on a dime. During pre-draft workout videos he leapt far above the rim and with seemingly great ease to throw the ball down during drills. When you factor in his frame, it’s easy to envision his strength gains with age making him one of the more imposing point guards in the league. There are very few 6’5’’ point guards in the NBA, and even fewer that have Mudiay’s type of natural athletic ability.
From an athleticism standpoint, Emmanuel Mudiay wins this category handily. While D’Angelo is no slouch, Emmanuel’s speed, leaping ability, strength, and quickness combination is already very unique when compared to the current crop of NBA guards. At 19 years old, Mudiay only has room to improve his already high level athleticism as he continues to get into better shape and gain access to better trainers as a professional.
Edge – Mudiay
Again in our face off series we have a pair of players that have pretty contrasting scoring styles. D’Angelo Russell hung his hat on a sweet shooting stroke, finesse, and vision, while Emmanuel Mudiay is a power player who uses his size, and speed to gain advantages in transition and getting to the hoop.
D’Angelo Russell – 33.9 mpg 19.3 ppg .449% FG .411% 3PT .756% FT 5.0 apg 2.9 TO
When you take a look at shooting, Russell is among the best in the entire class. He has a wonderful stroke that immediately translated to the NCAA ranks where he ranked 7th in the Big 12 in 3 point percentage on a pretty lofty 6.6 attempts per game. His smooth handle also renders him a pretty solid shot off the dribble, but still with room for improvement. In catch and shoot situations in which Russell was assisted, he nailed 53.2% of his 3 pointers (according to Hoop-Math.com). This kind of long range shooting really made him a threat to catch fire all season long. The former Buckeye went for 25 or more 7 times, including a 33 point outing against Northwestern.
Where D’Angelo can stand to improve offensively will most certainly be paired with his strength gains over the next few years. At the rim he shot just 62.2% (also via Hoop-Math.com) and while not a bad number, this will almost certainly project to a low to mid 50’s clip in the NBA. While crafty, and capable of mid-air adjustments, he’s going to do more damage in the mid-range, from deep, and in transition. Also for a player with as sweet a stroke as Russell, you’d expect him to be a little better from the charity stripe. 75% is nothing to scoff at, but to be that well rounded offensive guard at the next level, he’ll need to work on getting that clip to over 80%.
Passing the ball, he’s a lot of fun to watch. His basketball IQ is great in terms of seeing the court, and knowing where his teammates are going to be at all times. He’s got an array of one handed, bounce, no look, and touch passes at his disposal to use when the situation is right. Despite being a combo guard, of sorts, Russell dished out 5 assists per game, and went for over 10 in an outing twice, including a 11 assist 11 rebound triple-double against Rutgers in conference play. The drawback is his 1.72 assist to turnover ratio, which is in part due to his extremely high usage last season, but it’s also where he draws questions as to where his true position lies in the NBA. I really do believe his usage is a major reason behind his ho-hum A/TO ratio. Another high usage guard prospect last year, Marcus Smart, had a very similar A/TO ratio out of Oklahoma State (1.8 pg), but saw it vault to well over 2.0 per game in an NBA system where he wasn’t relied on quite so much.
Emmanuel Mudiay – 31.5 mpg 18 ppg .478% FG .342% 3PT .574% FT 5.92 apg 3.25 TO
While playing for the Guangdong Souther Tigers is very difficult to compare to playing basketball in the Big 10, one shouldn’t overlook that Mudiay excelled playing with grown men, many that once laced it up in the NBA. His teammates Jianlian Yi, Will Bynum, and Jeff Adrian would all torch current NCAA competition, and in this high scoring league Mudiay dropped 18 points per game before and injury shortened his season just shy of his 19th birthday.
His speed, and size combination make him a very powerful guard in terms of getting to the line, and finishing around the rim. He also is a strong ball handler, and a terror in the transition game. This kind of aggressiveness allowed him to put up big scoring games despite not being the most accurate shot in this point in his development. He went for 29 points against NBA journeyman, Dominique Jones. He threw down a 22 point 11 rebound, 13 assist game versus occasional 10 day contract recipient, Justin Dentmon, and it’s not to say these guys are elite players, but there’s still a difference between a professional basketball player in his mid-20’s and a 20 year old co-ed in the Big 10 who’ll have hoops career end after he graduates. Mudiay rose the occasion, and used his superb ball handling, and ability to get to the rim to average 18 points against pros, and that shouldn’t be overlooked.
His obvious flaws are in terms of his shooting. You’d like a player so adept in slashing to the rim to hit more of his free throws, and at this stage in his career, he needs to get much, much better. In addition, his game beyond the arc is not something you really want him to use a whole lot, unless he’s wide open. This kind of flaw will allow defenses to lag off, and render his quick first step and ability to get in the paint less effective. His main weakness, is a big one, but his shot isn’t broken, it will just take years to get to the level where he can be relied upon to make perimeter jumpers.
From a passing standpoint, Mudiay is a very creative passer, and is deadly leading the fast break. He’s got a good instinct in terms of knowing when to take it, and when to shoot, and took relatively decent care of the ball playing for the Tigers. His 1.82 assist to TO ratio is slightly better than what Russell put up in the NCAA ranks, and the pace in which the CBA operates is considerably fast, thus more prone to turnovers. Still, this isn’t a great mark for Emmanuel, but again a promising one in terms of development. He is more of a pure point guard, and Russell, and while not quite as razzle dazzle, he’s powerful, and is more than capable of making the right pass.
Again, each player is vastly different, even to the point of which guard spot they’ll primarily line up at every night, but the dual threat of Russell shooting the ball and passing the ball give him the edge. 3 point marksmanship is a premium for NBA guards today, and whether or not a player can knock them down is way more important than whether there is a “P” or an “S” next to their position in the backcourt. Both players are different types of playmakers, but they measure out pretty evenly with Mudiay taking the slight edge. It really is the overall shooting, and the extremely advanced offensive foundation D’Angelo brings to the table that gives him the win in this category.
Edge – Russell
Lining up on the other side of the ball, D’Angelo Russell was a very pesky on ball defender last season for Thad Motta, and his 1.6 steals per game often resulted in a dunk or layup for him at the other end of the court. He went for 3 or more steals 5 times as a freshman, and while not a player who projects as any sort of NBA shot blocking threat, his 8’6’’ standing reach will be of great aid when getting a hand in his opponents’ face. Russell also does pretty good on the defensive glass, and tallied 3 double digit rebound performances last season.
Looking forward, the aforementioned issue about his strength development is his biggest knock at the moment. He’s a really big, lengthy, guard, but he’s going to get pushed around his first couple years. More often than not, he’s very keyed in to the defensive side of the ball, and his quickness and tenacity will certainly serve him well. While D’Angelo doesn’t project as a defensive minus, in fact, I think he can be a good defender as he progresses, when compared to his offense, he has more hurdles to overcome.
While the CBA is not the most defensive oriented league in the world, especially when compared to the often grinding style of the Big 10, Emmanuel Mudiay has all the physical tools to make himself a great defender if he puts for the effort. His frame is that one a player that can hold 215 pounds easily, and make life a nightmare for opposing point guards. In China he averaged 1.6 steals per contest, and was very effective on the defensive glass. While his standing reach is a couple inches shorter than Russell’s, an 8’4’’ reach is still capable of that same ability to get a hand up to a good height when contesting jumpers.
Discipline, and development will be Mudiay’s key points going forward. He has the strength, and frame to be a beast at the point guard spot, but does he have that desire to really tap into his gritty side and take on that role? It’s very difficult to gather a ton of information in terms of a prospect’s defensive ability from the run and gun Chinese league, but when defensive potential and growth factor comes into play, Mudiay is the victor.
Russell may have the edge now as far as team defensive schemes and experience, but Mudiay has the body, and ability to take the jump to the next level and both be more effective off the bat, and down the road a few seasons. After a win for Russell in offense, Mudiay comes right back and knots it up at two a piece after being projected the superior defender.
Edge – Mudiay
Potential can come in a lot of forms, offensive, defensive, specialist, and it’s often assumed that the player with the most room to grow has the most potential.
D’Angelo Russell, is more polished offensively, but his foundation is through the roof. What he can do at his age, both in terms of scoring, and setting up teammates, has me thinking that the only way for him is up. There aren’t a lot of NBA guards that can score 20 points per game, and dish out 5 assists in the process, and I think after a few seasons, D’Angelo has just that kind of potential. He’s also no slouch on the defensive end. While he didn’t win my one on one analysis against Mudiay on the other side of the ball, the former Buckeye can indeed play NBA defense, and probably at a pretty good level after a couple years in the weight room.
Mudiay is the more raw offensive player, but he has a lot of room to grow, and I believe he needs to find out when to use his jumper, and when to drive. There are players that have come into the league shooting the ball like Mudiay, and have drastically improved. The biggest hurdle is often when to showcase your new ability, and when to realize what got you to the NBA in the first place. How much will Emmanuel grow? and how will he put it together? are both very valid questions. His potential offensively is still pretty high, but he’s got more room to fall short. Defensively, he possesses a great deal of room to grow, and all the physical tools to be one of the best positional defenders in the league. Again, he has some questions to answer, but Emmanuel is both oozing with promise if he can put everything together.
I don’t always feel the most raw player has the most potential. Elite 20 point per game guards, who can play two positions, and play some D are few and far between, and that’s while I feel D’Angelo Russell has the edge in potential. While I love Mudiay’s ability to get the hoop, and pathway to forge a career as a top defender, will he be more than a 14 or 16 point per game NBA player? or will his lack of a jumper ground him as more of a setup man who can get to the hoop. I feel Russell’s potential to become a player in the club of maybe 5 to 8 other players in the league win him the battle of potential, but again, this category is always fun to look back upon in about 5 years.
Edge – Russell
The top guards of the 2015 class each have a legit shot to lock down a spot in the 2-7 range in this year’s draft, and while very different, each have elements of their game with some NBA readiness, and some down the road upside.
Emmanuel Mudiay played grown men, and rose to the challenge as a teenager. He projects as a slasher, NBA point guard, defender, and transition nightmare whose total offensive package will go as far as his jump shot takes him.
D’Angelo Russell has a excellent offensive package, and an amazing jump shot. Then you factor in his creativity as a passer, and NBA size, and he really looks like a guy who can play either guard position depending on your team needs, and grow into a scoring guard, who can also set up his teammates. Defensively, he’s solid, and needs to add strength, but I feel because of his advanced game with the ball in his hands, and room to develop into an elite guard with less room to fall short. While NBADraft.net as a whole prefers Mudiay’s athleticism, defense and overall potential more, I give the edge, and this Face Off to the former Ohio State Buckeye, D’Angelo Russell.
Follow David Ray on twitter @DRNBAdraft