“I’m the best player in the draft,” he said simply.
That comment wasn’t validated at the NBA Draft in Brooklyn tonight as Russell was the second, not first, player selected. Russell came off the board with the No. 2 selection by Los Angeles and now he has an entire NBA career to prove the Lakers right and prove Minnesota wrong.
It will be years before the dust settles on the 2015 draft and it becomes clear who the best player is. It may never become clear and it may not be Karl-Anthony Towns, the first overall pick of the Timberwolves. It may not be Russell, either, but there is certainly a history of a draft’s top players not going No. 1 (Michael Jordan and Keven Durant come to mind). While it remains uncertain where Russell will fit in among the players selected tonight, it’s clear that he fits in in Los Angeles.
"I can't even talk right now," Russell told ESPN moments after being drafted. "It's a surreal moment."
"I want (Bryant) to take me under his wing and gain every peice of knowledge I can possibly gain."
Not only does Russell provide the Lakers with backcourt depth and a player who could develop under first-ballot hall of famer Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles was the landing spot the Buckeye guard was hoping for. Russell, who did all of his pre-training in Los Angeles, worked out twice for the Lakers prior to the draft and clearly impressed a front office that will pursue frontcourt help in free agency. He also lobbied Los Angeles to select him.
"I wouldn't expect Kobe to take me under his wing,” Russell told Yahoo Sports prior to the draft. “I think he will want to see a resemblance of that hunger and fire that he came into the league with as a young kid. No one needs to be nicest guy in the world, or needs to pretend to be that. He will see through that, pick all that apart.”
It was a bit surprising that Russell, who attended the draft in Brooklyn wearing a Buckeye-centric suit with a scarlet jacket with grey lapels, a grey pocket square and a scarlet bowtie, came off the board second. Most mock drafts had predicted that Russell would go third to Philadelphia, though the idea that the Lakers would select him gained momentum as the draft approached. Russell will join Bryant in Los Angles for what is reportedly the five-time champion’s last season in the NBA and get a chance to develop alongside 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle.
Russell left Ohio State after just one season, joining Mike Conley Jr., Greg Oden, Daquan Cook, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens as one-and-done players under Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. He was selected higher than all of those players aside from Oden, who went first in the 2007 draft, and Matta thinks Russell may be the best of the bunch.
“He’s maybe at the top,” Matta said of Russell when he declared for the draft in April.
“What I love about him, what people love about him is he can do so many different things. Somebody asked about the position he is going to play at the next level, I don’t think that’s determined. They love his size at the point guard position, they love his ability to make guys better, but with that size he can also play off the basketball. I think that’s what makes him dynamic.”
Roster flexibility is a prized commodity in the NBA and Russell displayed the versatility needed to provide it while at Ohio State. He started alongside point guard Shannon Scott but often initiated the offense. The 10th player Matta has seen drafted, Russell finished his lone season as a Buckeye with 675 points and 95 made threes, both program records for a freshman, and his 175 assists ranked third all-time among first-year players at Ohio State. The leading freshman scorer in the country last season, Russell is Ohio State’s first lottery pick since the 76ers selected Evan Turner second overall in 2010.
The Louisville native became the 10th Ohio State player to be selected in the Top 5 of the NBA draft and the fourth Buckeye coached by Matta to go that high. Russell is the 50th player to be drafted in program history and the 22nd first-round selection in Ohio State history. His selection gives Ohio State a draft pick in eight of the last nine seasons after a one-year drought last season.