Putting D'Angelo Russell's Season in Historical Context
This year in college basketball, just like many in recent years, has a lot of great freshmen talent. There's Arizona's Stanley Johnson, UCLA's Kevon Looney, Kentucky's many talented freshmen, and Duke's Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, who is a final 15 candidate for the John R. Wooden Award.
There are a lot of skilled youngsters to talk about in the different areas of the nation. In the Northeast, that's Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell.
He's one of the top five freshman in the nation and is quite possibly the most gifted of them all.
Okafor has the advantage of being a part of one of the best teams in the nation with a lot of elite talent around him -- as for Russell, not so much.
Russell's Buckeyes are sixth in the Big Ten and will likely be seeded in the 8 to 11 area for the NCAA tournament, but that has nothing to do with Mr. Russell. He's having a historic season, especially for a freshman.
In a League of His Own
Averaging 19.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game, D'Angelo Russell has reached uncharted territory for freshmen in college basketball in recent history.
He's the only freshman since 1997-98 to average at least 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game, and the next closest freshman season is Nick Calathes' 2007-2008 season with the Florida Gators. In his freshman campaign, Calathes averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists and 5.2 assists per game.
Calathes may have the slight upper hand in assists, with nearly one more assist per game, but Russell has him in every other category. Russell averages 0.4 more rebounds and just short of 4 more points per contest than the former Gator, and he shoots at a substantially higher percentage on all three areas of the floor.
Take a look for yourself.
Not only does Russell trump Calathes in all three percentage categories, but he's also shot 33 more shots and 41 more three pointers than Calathes. He's much more efficient with his shot attempts, and it shows.
Russell's Effective Field Goal percentage (55.4%) and True Shooting percentage (58.4%) are both substantially higher than those of the former Gator (49.6% and 54.6%, respectively). As a result, Russell is much more valuable and irreplaceable to his Buckeyes team.
Russell's 6.5 Win Shares -- 4.2 offensively and 2.3 defensively -- are 10th in the nation and 2.0 better than Calathes' total of 4.5. He is also 12th in the country in Points Produced (598) and 14th in Points Produced per game (19.3).
So it's plain to see that Russell does a lot more for his Buckeyes than Calathes did for his Gators. Though Joe Lunardi projects Ohio State as an 8 seed and our own numbers project the Buckeyes as an 11 seed, they've enjoyed a good season on the back of their star freshman.
The Buckeyes are 22-9, have a nERD of 14.78, and have a 76.88% chance of making the dance. Calathes' Gators finished 24-12, with a nERD of 10.10, and failed to make the tournament.
Russell has been a great leader for Ohio State, and he's done it as a freshman.
In Good Company
Historically, Russell stands alone as the only freshman to average 19, 5 and 5 over the course of a season in quite some time, but when we dig deeper and look at all college basketball players, Russell's not alone. That's a good thing though.
Russell is 1 of 14 players ever to have that kind of season, and the other 13 to accomplish the feat were all upperclassmen (juniors or seniors). Among the 13 are some notable names: Speedy Claxton, a former NBA champion, Norris Cole, Elfrid Payton, and Evan Turner. Ohio State alum, Evan Turner, and former Iowa State standout, Curtis Stinson, are the only other players to have such a season in a power conference.
It's only right then that Russell is expected to be a very successful player in the NBA for years to come. The 6'5" combo guard is currently fourth on Chad Ford's Big Board for this year's upcoming draft and has already garnered praise, unwanted or not, from Knicks general manager Phil Jackson.
Let's not rush into Russell's future though -- let's enjoy the present. Let's enjoy history in the making.