The one prospect the Philadelphia 76ers have been linked to more than any other leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft is obvious: Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell.
It all began back in late April when Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that an NBA executive said the 76ers are targeting Russell.
“The thought around the NBA is that the 76ers hope to select D'Angelo Russell in the NBA draft, according to a league executive.
"He's the guy they want," the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. "That's the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won't come out and say it, but he's the guy they want.”
A ton of NBA mock drafts have linked Russell to Philadelphia at No. 3 since he's viewed as the third best prospect behind top two ranked big men Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor of Duke.
Though 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager Sam Hinkie is a master at playing his cards down, it's very possible he prefers Russell at No. 3. But does Russell want to be drafted by Philadelphia? It's ultimately not his choice, but there have been some interesting indications lately.
After the Philadelphia Inquirer originally reported Russell was scheduled to work out for the 76ers, they then later said that the workout was cancelled. Some speculated Russell didn't want to work out for Philadelphia, but it was later reported that Russell was “real sick.”
A few days later, however, Russell did indeed show up in Philadelphia for a workout.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Russell had dinner with Hinkie one night before working out at the 76ers' practice facility the next day. Russell also met with Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown. Russell said the workout went “great.” The Philadelphia Inquirer cited a source saying that Russell “really loves Philly.”
But there might be some other evidence to suggest otherwise. A recent report from Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times indicates Russell is not enamored with the City of Brotherly Love. From the report:
“After trading point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the 2014 rookie of the year, to Milwaukee this past season, it would appear that the 76ers need a point guard. But the buzz around the NBA is that D’Angelo Russell, a 6-5 point guard from Ohio State whom many see as a lesser Stephen Curry-type, doesn’t want to play for the unpredictable 76ers. Russell did work out for the 76ers last week.”
The truth is that it doesn't really matter if Russell wants to play for the 76ers or not. If Philadelphia takes him, he'll be forced to play for them. Hinkie is bound to draft Russell at No. 3 if he believes he is the best player, whether Russell approves or not.
There's a good chance Russell could be the player Hinkie covets. The 19-year-old point guard really flashed during his freshman year at Ohio State. The 6-foot-5, 193 pound prospect averaged 33.9 minutes played in 35 appearances with the Buckeyes. On a per-game basis, he averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists (to 2.9 turnovers), and 1.6 steals. Russell shot 44.9% from the field, 41.1% from three-point range, and 75.6% from the free throw line. Russell sees the floor really well and has a great ball-handling skills. There's clearly a lot to like.
At the same time, there are obviously concerns. Russell's lack of top-notch athleticism is often held against him. He also needs to improve as a defender. The 76ers emphasized defense in the form of rim protection with two of their first round picks of the Sam Hinkie era: Nerlens Noel in 2013 and Joel Embiid in 2014. Maybe the 76ers feel Russell's poor defense can be mitigated by a strong inside presence. Or maybe it's a signal that they really value defense and Russell won't be a good fit.
There's no perfect prospect in this year's draft class. Karl-Anthony Towns might be the closest thing to it, but he will likely be drafted within the top two picks. There's a good chance Russell will be on the board when the 76ers are on the clock. If that's the case, there's a good chance he'll be the pick whether he wants to play for Philadelphia or not.