There are some excellent PG prospects in the 2015 draft. The best are a couple of 19 year-olds, one who played college ball and one who went overseas. Those are the two I’m going to look at here, D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Emmanuel Mudiay who played his post-prep ball in China. First a look at their pace adjusted numbers:
These are 2 good prospects. While this is far from an apples-to-oranges comp there are a few things that need to be mentioned. I’m not sure how the level of competition in China compares to the top level of the NCAA. To give an idea of the league’s strength, NBA journeyman DJ White averaged 15.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG in 27 games last year. That’s roughly triple his career NBA totals. But that’s the NBA. The Chinese league Mudiay played in was loaded with ex-NBA players like White, Will Bynum and Stephon Marbury (!), but there are also restrictions on how many non-Chinese players can be on a roster. The competition seems pretty solid by international standards and the fact that Mudiay was so effective is a good sign. I doubt the level of competition is much different from the NCAA.
The other thing that needs to be mentioned regarding Mudiay’s numbers is they are for only 378 minutes. He injured his ankle during the CBA season and played only 378 minutes. The numbers are excellent, but I’d feel a lot better about them if they were for 1000 minutes.
They’re pretty similar players. Russell scored more frequently. Mudiay passed more frequently and was a more efficient scorer. Both are solid defensively. Neither has a turnover problem. To see where their stats place them with recent freshmen, here are the other recent freshmen who topped 19.0 P40 and 8.0 RSB40.
This is a pretty strong group to be in. There are 3 MVPs in Curry, Rose and Iverson and a couple of almost MVPs in Harden and Billups. Harden, Curry and Garcia were more of SGs in college. Harden and Curry are currently the lead distributors on their teams. Both have had the type of recent success that Russell, Mudiay and the teams drafting them would like to emulate, so I thought they should be included.
D’Angelo Russell: The only number of real concern is Russell’s .479 2PP. That’s low for a prospect and would become more of a red flag if Russell posted it as an older player. A low 2PP as a frosh didn’t stop Iverson or Billups from a HOF career. Neither player ever shot over .500 on 2-pointers during their long NBA careers though. Even if inefficiency were a persistent NBA problem for Russell he has enough skill to still be a valuable pro.
Sometimes it’s helpful to look at a player month-by-month to look for trends or, especially in freshmen, improvement. Here are Russell’s numbers broken down by month:
He had a nice start in the non-conference games. He became a monster in January. The final months of the season he came back to earth. It looks like he tried to be more of a distributor than a scorer in February, but in March his passing number fell into the gorge. Taken as a whole it is an excellent freshman year.
The hot streak in January actually boosted his low 2PP. In an ideal season a freshman starts well and finishes even better, while correcting the rough spots in his game along the way. Russell started fine and hit ridiculous heights in January before coming back to earth, while still posting decent numbers the final 2 months. This could be looked at a couple of ways. The fact that he was this good for a month says a lot about how high his ceiling is. If he can figure out how to be this productive more frequently, he’ll become a great pro. If January was just a fluke and he came back to earth because defenses adjusted to him then he might be a tad overrated. I feel it is best to be optimistic with young players. They have a wider learning curve and are pretty good about getting things figured out.
There’s a lot to like about Russell and he’s every bit the top 3-5 pick the mocks have him projected as. I do have some concerns about the efficiency and the lacks any real dominant number. That’s not to disparage Russell. He projects to be something between a solid rotation player and a superstar. I’d be leery about drafting him ahead of one of the top 2 centers as rumors have happening now, but there are no red flags screaming “bust” to be concerned about. In this draft he’s a top 5 player, but I doubt he’ll ever reach superstar level.
Emmanuel Mudiay: Mudiay has the shadow of Dante Exum hovering over him. That’s a player with numbers compiled overseas that looked impressive, but were suspicious. In Exum’s case the only numbers available were from all-star games. They looked pretty impressive, but all-star game numbers are a very poor indicator of future success. Mudiay’s numbers were put up in low minutes but were against actual professional competition, so they have a lot more validity than Exum’s. A good thing, as Exum had a very difficult rookie year.
The low minutes are the only reason Mudiay concerns me though. The reason this is important is in just 378 minutes there is less time for numbers to fluctuate over the course of a season. The picture that emerges of the player is less clear. For comparison think of Russell’s season id it ended after December when he had accumulated 425 minutes. By the end of the season his steals and assists had declined while his efficiency went up and down. Mudiay’s low minutes didn’t allow for such fluctuations.
With that in mind, Mudiay is still pretty impressive. Going overseas to a different environment and thriving on the court is an impressive feat. Unlike Russell he actually hits all the important PG benchmarks, which is a pretty big deal for a 19 year-old whether it happens in the NCAA or overseas. He has all the size and athleticism necessary to excel at the next level.
I find it difficult to pick one over the other when comparing the 2. Both are obviously strong NBA prospects. They’re #1 and #1A when looking at the top PG prospects for 2015. Both come with questions and numbers that are something less than the dominant type future NBA superstars generally post. I would feel comfortable choosing either one at 4 or 5, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up that I was getting another Harden or Curry with either one.