Scott, Russell Striking Backcourt Balance

Shannon Scott was finally given the keys to the Buckeyes offense this season, but D'Angelo Russell is forcing him to share the wheel.

This was supposed to be Shannon Scott’s team. The senior point guard had waited patiently behind Aaron Craft for three years, playing off the ball and out of his natural position to let Craft run the show. The thinking was that this would be his season to shine with the ball in his hands.

It has been … sort of.

Scott has certainly been a leader for Ohio State this season and he is averaging a team-high 6.7 assists a game, nearly double his total from last season. The problem for the quick, aggressive 6-1 point guard, however, is that the Buckeyes are a better team when the ball is in another player’s hands.

That player, of course, is D’Angelo Russell.

The freshman has been special this season, averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds a game. As he showed in his 10-assist effort Saturday against Indiana, Russell is a force with the ball in his hands thanks to his combination of elite vision and scoring acumen.

That means that when Russell is at his best – and therefore when the Buckeyes are – the ball isn’t in Scott’s hands.

“The way he controlled the game in the first half was unbelievable so I have no problem going off the ball and letting him get assists and he did a great job out there,” Scott said after the Indiana game.

The senior had just three assists in Ohio State’s 82-70 win over the Hoosiers, but knocked down some key second-half shots on his way to 10 points, just his second double-digit point total in league play and sixth this season.

In the five most productive games of Russell’s season, including the last three games, Scott has still made an impact on the ball. In those contests (games against Sacred heart, at Minnesota, at Iowa, Northwestern and Indiana) Scott has averaged 7.2 assists. Clearly Russell’s impact doesn’t prevent the senior guard from having one.

It’s all part of a process of learning to play off of Russell’s strengths, something that the whole team has gotten better at according to head coach Thad Matta.

The coach said he saw that Russell was capable of controlling the court in summer practices before the team’s preseason trip to the Bahamas and challenged Scott to match him in that regard.

“At the end of practice one day I just stopped and said, ‘hey this is D’Angelo’s court. He’s got complete control of the court,’” Matta said. “I was saying it to Shannon Scott to say, ‘hey you need to get the other half of it.’ That was my point to it.”

At times, Scott has taken over more than half the court. He’s had double-digit assists five times this season, though four of those incidents were against a poor nonconference slate. He is tops in the Big Ten in assist rate, a statistic that measures the percentage of shots that a player assists on while they are on the court, at 35.3. Russell is eighth in the league in that category at 29.4.

Across the board, Scott is having his best season as a Buckeye, but it’s not the ball-dominant approach to the game that he may have anticipated in the preseason. Scott consistently makes a positive impact on the game when he controls the ball, making others – including Russell – better. But the impact that the immensely talented freshman can have with the ball is even greater.

Even before the season, Matta knew that this might happen, that moving Russell to the point might make his team better.

“I think now is the time for (Scott) to be as consistent as he possible can in terms of being a point guard, being a lead guard,” Matta said before the season. “If we were to play he and D’Angelo together we can kind of move them around.”

It appears that the two guards and the coach are starting to figure out the best way they can do that – evidenced by the second half against the Hoosiers when Russell let the game come to him, registering five assists and six points. Scott shined with Russell running things, scoring all of his 10 points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting.

If the guards can continue to strike that balance, the Buckeyes will only continue to get better.

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