The comparison to the 2010 Naismith Player of the Year is just one of the ways that the Ohio State head coach has searched for new ways to praise the dynamic rookie guard.
For Turner, there came a point when the light seemed to come on, where he seemed to realize that Ohio State was at its best when he was the one dictating the game.
Russell has averaged 27.3 points, nine rebounds and six assists over the Buckeyes last three games, a stretch in which they went 2-1 with the lone loss coming by single digits at Iowa.
So, has Russell realized that Ohio State is better when he is taking over?
“I don’t know if he realizes it,” Matta said Wednesday. “I think D’Angelo is really good at just playing basketball.
“You’ve seen with him where he’s had great halves of scoring, then he’s had great halves of assists. I think he is more along the lines of whatever I have to do to help the team, I’ll do that. Now, does he want to take a big shot? Yeah, he does. Does he want the ball on the foul line at the end of the game? Yeah, he definitely does.”
Russell has taken plenty of big shots this season and his stellar all-around play mirrors that of Turner’s in some ways. During Turner’s sophomore season, a year that saw the 6-7 guard begin to take over the team late in the year, he averaged 17.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists, all of which led the team. So far this season, Russell is tops for the Buckeyes in points at 19.4 per game and rebounds with 5.2 per contest. He is averaging more assists than Turner did that year with 5.1 per game, though that is second on the team to Shannon Scott.
While taking over games may not be something that Russell is cognizant of, he is clearly doing so for the Buckeyes. His teammates saw this coming a while ago.
“I think the biggest thing when I saw it was that he came in I think a week or two late from the other freshman and the first day he came in he made some big shots,” Scott said. “He didn’t really try to fit in even though he was like a week or two behind everybody else. He was aggressive from the very first time that he touched the ball, so I kind of knew from there that he was going to be a special player.” The idea that Russell didn’t worry about fitting in was something Scott repeated about the guard, and about the entire freshman class. The senior complimented the group on their desire to not just be a guy on the team, but on being the guy.
“When you have attitudes like that, you can have a great player,” Scott said.
Russell has certainly been that. He is third nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and if his recent play continues, he may be in line for All-American honors.
The Louisville native is the Buckeyes most productive and most important player. When Russell is on the court (which is the vast majority of the time as he is averaging a team-high 32.7 minutes per game) he finishes 29.8 percent of Ohio State’s possessions. That’s the second highest percentage in the Big Ten this season and the highest by a Buckeye since … Evan Turner.
Turner had a ludicrous 34.7 percent usage rate his junior season, during his sophomore campaign he finished exactly 29.8 percent of possessions.
Matta has compared Turner and Russell on multiple occasions this season and if the Buckeye freshman can continue to mirror Turner’s ability to take over games, Ohio State will be better for it.