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How Special Can D'Angelo Russell Be For The Ohio State Buckeyes?

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Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell appears to be the Big Ten Freshman of the Year frontrunner, but how does he compare to some of the top Big Ten freshmen in recent years?

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Fourteen.  That's the number of Ohio State players who have been drafted since the NBA Draft moved to its current two round system in 1989.  Among this number, 8 players have been drafted in the 1st Round and 9 players have been drafted in the last 8 years, including a run of seven straight drafts where at least one Buckeye had his named called.

Still, among all this talent, Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell has managed to separate himself from the pack.  It's not easy to try and go toe to toe with great Buckeye players like Mike Conley, Jr., Greg Oden, and Jared Sullinger, but with 24 games behind him, Russell is still making his mark.

Things for Russell began in Louisville, where the blue chip prospect excelled in his high school days.  By 2011, Russell was already visiting major basketball programs like Indiana and Missouri and was receiving major attention from programs like Kentucky by 2012.  When Russell committed to Ohio State in June of 2013, Thad Matta and his staff may not have been entirely sure about what they were going to get, but they certainly had high hopes.

When all was said and done on the recruiting trail, the Buckeyes not only brought in Russell - who was eventually rated as a 5-star recruit by 247Sports and as the #1 player in Kentucky - but they also brought in three other players in their 2014 recruiting class that were rated as at least 4-star recruits.  The general consensus was that Russell would be the top prospect in the class, but no recruit is ever a "lock" to be successful.

For many, the excitement started to blossom in Ohio State's opening exhibition when Russell put up 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a 40 point blowout of Walsh.  Of course, putting points up against a lackluster opponent is nothing to write home about.  In fact, Russell largely dominated the month of November for Ohio State.  He scored double-digits in 4 of the team's 5 games and he averaged 5.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game during the stretch.  The team was undefeated and expectations were pretty high for the young freshman.

Perhaps this is when Russell had his freshman moments, or perhaps it was earlier, but nonetheless, the month of December was not only an inconsistent one for Ohio State, but also an inconsistent one for Russell.  Over the month, the Buckeyes went 6-3.  Not necessarily a horrible record, but considering that the best of these 6 wins came against the #141 ranked team on KenPom, the record was concerning.  Russell himself had his struggles.

D'Angelo Russell In December

Russell In December

During Wins

During Losses

Average Minutes

30.2

33.7

Average Offensive Rating

126.3

85.7

Average Points

18.7

13.7

Average Rebounds

4.5

6.0

Average Assists

5.2

5.0

Average Turnovers

3.2

2.0

Average Personal Fouls

1.5

4.0

Field Goal Percentage

53.6% 26.4%

3PT Percentage

60.0%

16.67%

It's painfully obvious that Russell's numbers were much better during wins than losses in December.  This is true with most players, but when you add in Russell's 6 point performance against Marquette in November, his numbers weren't all that outstanding against the Top 100 KenPom teams that Ohio State faced heading into 2014.  He was certainly performing well, but nowhere near good enough to compare with that big time players that Ohio State fans had grown accustomed to like Oden and Sullinger.

That's when it clicked.

Since Ohio State's loss to Iowa at the end of December, Russell has been not playing as Ohio State's best player, but has separated himself in the Big Ten Freshman of the Year race and has forced comparisons to some of Ohio State's great recent players like Oden and Sullinger.  Just look at the stats.

D'Angelo Russell's Last 10 Games:
  • Two Big Ten Player of the Week awards.
  • Four Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards.
  • Averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game
  • Scored double-digits in every game.
  • Offense rating of at least 100 in 9 of 10 games.
  • Scored at least 20 points in 8 of 10 games.
  • Grabbed at least 6 rebounds in 7 out of 10 games.
  • Had at least five assists in 7 out of 10 games.
  • Grabbed at least 10 rebounds against Iowa, Maryland, and Rutgers.
  • Had at least 10 assists against Indiana and Rutgers.
  • Triple-double against Rutgers (23 pts, 11 asts, 11 rebs) - only freshman this year.
  • Ohio State season-high of 33 points against Northwestern.
Anyway you break things down, that is exceptional play, especially considering that Ohio State faced 8 teams that are currently in the KenPom Top 100 and 5 to 6 games against teams currently projected in the NCAA Tournament (depending on your bracketology of choice).  Russell is putting up big single game performances, is showing consistency, and is showing he can do it against solid competition.

But ultimately, where does this leave him historically?

Well, to start, Russell looks to be the runaway candidate for this year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year award barring something unusual happening down the stretch.  That alone would put him in some elite company, but let's look at how he stacks up against some of the best recent freshmen statistically.

Even when you compare Russell's numbers to some of the best Big Ten freshmen and Ohio State freshmen in recent years, he holds up very well.  Though he does not lead this group in any single category listed above, he is right there with the best in a lot of categories and does very well even in categories like rebounding where he is being compared to big men like Oden and Sullinger.

Here is a chart comparing the statistical profiles of these players:

freshmen profiles

Again, Russell doesn't dominate these comparisons, but he is right up there in just about every major statistical category against the best freshmen in recent years for the Big Ten and the best freshmen at Ohio State.  When you are talking about comparing to players like Burke, Conley, Oden, Sullinger, and Zeller, you are in pretty elite company.  Just take a look at his spot among these players.
D'Angelo Russell's Rank Among 14 Charted Big Ten Freshman:

  • Minutes: #3
  • Offensive Rating: #3
  • Win Shares Per 40: #2
  • Points Per Game: #2
  • Rebounds Per Game: #4
  • Assists Per Game: #2
  • Blocks Per Game: #14
  • Steals Per Game: #1

This brings us back around to where Russell will end up historically at Ohio State.  The obvious answer is that we won't know until he career concludes in Columbus, but upon what we have seen already, he deserves to be in the discussion with any first year players in the Big Ten in recent years and even in the discussion with some of the best players Ohio State has had in recent years.

The next few weeks will be very important in determining his legacy and especially considering that Russell's NBA stock is rapidly rising, Ohio State fans might need to sit back and enjoy how how special Russell is becoming for Ohio State and the Big Ten.