By Peter Gleason
As of this Sunday morning, there are 32 days before the NBA draft on June 25, and the airwaves are filled with gasbags talking about which guard the Sixers will take with their No. 3 overall pick:
Emmanuel Mudiay of Africa and China or D’Angelo Russell of America and Ohio State?
Forget the fact that no one who is commenting has even seen Mudiay play, except on YouTube, which comes up decidedly short when it is compared to actual, in-person observation.
About the only basketball man of note who has seen Mudiay play in person is former Sixers head coach Larry Brown, who almost got him to SMU before Emmanuel took the cash to play in China.
And just so you remember, Brown is a great coach who has won titles in the NBA and in college, but as a judge of talent he took Larry Hughes when he ran the Sixers instead of Paul Pierce!
So, let’s compare the two.
Height: 6’5 -weight: 200 lbs -wingspan: 6’8.5
Strenghts: Mudiay ranks among the most physically gifted guard prospects in years. At 6’5, he towers over many others at the PG position, and his long arms only add to his enormous stature. While his speed and leaping ability are elite, they certainly aren’t unparalleled (Russell Westbrook does it better), but his agility is where he separates himself. His handles are absolutely absurd, rivaling the NBA’s bests already. He has made a reputation for absolutely embarrassing defenders in China with his quick step and will certainly excel at breaking down defenses in the NBA.
Mudiay’s quickness also helps him excel on the fast break, where he demonstrates both scoring and playmaking ability.
His playmaking is another strong suit. Mudiay has excellent court vision and runs the pick & roll at an elite level. While his passing isn’t quite perfect yet, he has the tools to be a top-notch distributor at the NBA level.
Mudiay also shows tons of promise on the defensive end. His speed and length make him a terrifying opponent for opposing PGs and also give him the ability to guard 2s. He gets caught overreaching and making dumb attempts for steals sometimes, but with discipline he has the tools to be a standout defender.
Weaknesses: The most glaring problem with Mudiay? He can’t shoot. After knocking down just 30% of his threes and an even more troubling 57% of his FTs. As DraftExpress points out, Mudiay has pretty poor shooting form and it’s not going to do him any favors at the NBA level. While Mudiay is an awesome scorer on the interior and a driving force, his inability to score from outside the key is extremely troubling.
Other concerns mostly center around his turnovers and decision-making. He often makes flashy or complicated passes instead of the safe or obvious play, resulting in a TO rate of 3.7 per 36.
His TOs will likely be fixed with discipline, however, and are not as big a knock as his lack of shooting touch.
NBA comparison: The obvious comparison with Mudiay is a less skilled Russell Westbrook. The athleticism and drive are both there for Mudiay, however he lacks Westbrook’s range and offensive versatility.
Best Fit: Mudiay could be a great floor general and is a guy who would benefit from the opporunity to lead a team. However, he needs discipline and mentoring in order to work out the kinks in his game. I think he could work well in New York, with Melo there to provide outside shooting and Fisher to teach him the nuances of being an NBA point guard.
Height: 6’5 -wight: 176 lbs -wingspan: 6’8.5
Strengths: Thought of as a combo guard but likely to play the point in the NBA, Russell is equally oversized for his position. Russell is a beautifully polished player for a 19 year old, keeping it cool, calm , and collected under pressure. He has all the mental characteristics a team could want, possessing natural leadership and the swagger necessary to be a marketable superstar in the NBA.
Russell has all the guard skills a team could want: he can handle, he can shoot efficiently (44.9% FG in college, including 41.1% from behind the arc), and he can make smart decisions with the ball. Similar to Mudiay, Russell runs the pick and roll effectively, as well as being an excellent passer on drives.
Russell also has a high ceiling as a primary scoring option in the NBA. He’s demonstrated his ability to perform as a go-to guy at the college level, putting a fairly weak Ohio State team on his back all season and posting an impressive (19.3/5.7/5.0) statline. As ESPN noted at the beginning of the tournament “Ohio State will only go as far as D’Angelo Russell takes them.” Russell has the makings of a first option and great team leader as a pro.
Weaknesses: Russell has two main knocks against him:
First, he demonstrates very little hustle on defense. While he’s certainly no matador defender, he hasn’t demonstrated the energy to be a high-level NBA defender.
More importantly, he hasn’t really played much point guard. There remains the huge question mark of how he’ll perform with the ball constantly in his hands at the Pro level. His playmaking and court vision will really be tested as a PG.
NBA Comparison: As a combo guard who can easily learn to play the point, he’ll likely come into the league as a Brandon Knight type. However, Russell shows far more promise as an elite scorer than Knight, and has a much higher ceiling.
Best Fit: Russell shines in the spotlight and loves to be a leader. He would be a perfect fit in the limelight of LA, where he could bring his swagger into the spotlight and be a primary scoring option right away.