Matta's Best Pros

D'Angelo Russell made it 10 Buckeyes drafted in the Thad Matta era when he was selected second in the 2015 draft last Thursday. Based on what they've done since they left Columbus, how do those players rank?

When D’Angelo Russell was selected second overall in the NBA Draft last week, it was a great accomplishment for the Ohio State star. It was also a nice feather in the cap of Buckeye coach Thad Matta.

With Russell’s selection, Matta has now had 10 players drafted in the 11 seasons he has been the Buckeye coach. As a program, Ohio State has had a total of 50 players selected in the NBA draft since its inception in 1950, meaning Matta has guided 20 percent of the Buckeyes to have ever been drafted to the NBA.

Only legendary Ohio State coach Fred Taylor has had more Buckeyes drafted than Matta, tallying 18 selections in 18 seasons. During Taylor’s days at the helm, however, the draft continued until teams ran out of prospects, going as many as 21 rounds. Eight of the players Taylor had drafted went in the first two rounds, the current length of the draft, with 31 players in program history coming off the board by the end of the second round.

Not only has Matta produced a disproportionate number of OSU draft picks, he’s coached some of the program’s highest selections. Of the 10 Buckeyes who have been taken in the Top 5 of the NBA draft Matta has coached four of them including Greg Oden, the only No. 1 selection in Ohio State history.

No matter how you slice it, Matta is the most prolific coach in Ohio State history at putting players in position to play professional basketball. With that in mind, I take a stab at ranking every Matta-coached Buckeye who has been drafted based on their professional success.

10. Greg Oden

  • No. 1 pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007 NBA Draft
  • NBA stats: 105 games played, 8.0 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 1.2 blocks per game

Oden has played more NBA games than two others players on this list, but given the immense expectations that come with being the top pick in the draft, the Buckeye center has to be the bottom of the list of Matta draft picks.

Labeled one of the biggest busts in draft history, Oden went one pick ahead of 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant. At the time, people picked sides between Durant and Oden for the top pick, but neither camp viewed the other as outlandish. They were a clear 1-2 in that draft and could have gone either way without much disagreement.

Injuries derailed what was sure to be a promising career for Oden as his knees began to breakdown and off-court issues surfaced. He most recently played 23 games with the Miami Heat during the 2013-14 season and continues to work out in Columbus.

“He’s in great, great spirits,” Matta said last fall. “He looks great, feeling great about himself right now. We love having Greg around.”

No. 9 Deshaun Thomas

  • No. 58 pick by the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 NBA Draft
  • European stats: 109 games, 9.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg

The last Buckeye drafted prior to Russell’s selection this year, Thomas has not played a game in the NBA. Considering he was a second-round pick and nearly the last selection in the entire 2013 draft, that isn’t a huge surprise.

Thomas has had some success in two seasons in Europe, most recently playing for FC Barcelona in Europe’s most competitive basketball league. It seemed he could find a role with the Spurs when he was drafted, but it now seems likely that an international career will be Thomas’ best bet.

No. 8 Jon Diebler

  • No. 51 pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2011
  • European stats: 60 games, 12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 assists per game, 47.7 percent 3FG

Like Thomas, Diebler has never played a game in the NBA but has had a nice career in Europe. He capped his third season in Turkey and fourth professional season with a Turkish League Championship, an accomplishment that notches him a spot ahead of his former teammate.

The sharpshooter still harbors NBA dreams and may participate in summer league this year with the Houston Rockets, who currently owns his rights.

“Hopefully, maybe I’ll play summer league and go from there, but if not I think I’ve done pretty well over here in Europe and we’ll see what kind of offers I get from European teams,” he said in a phone interview in May. “At the end of the day I am just very blessed and thankful to be able to play basketball for a living, wherever that is. Obviously everybody has dreams and my dream is to play in the NBA, but I am absolutely loving my time in Europe.”

Picking between he and Thomas was essentially splitting hairs, but the length of Diebler’s career and his European title give him the edge.

No. 7 Byron Mullens

  • No. 24 pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 2009
  • NBA stats: 189 games, 7.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Mullens came to Ohio State as a highly touted local product and while many feel he underperformed in his lone season in Columbus, he carved out a career in the NBA. The 7-foot center never played for the Mavericks, the team that drafted him, and was hardly used in his first two seasons in Oklahoma City. Once he moved on to Charlotte, however, he put together a pair of productive seasons.

Mullens played in 118 games in two seasons as a Bobcat, starting 66. He averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds during the 2011-12 campaign and upped those numbers to 10.6 and 6.4 the following year. He also has a 31-point, 14-rebound game to his name.

Despite that success, he has not been able to stay in the league since and finished last season in the NBA Development League.

No. 6 Daequan Cook

  • No. 21 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2007
  • NBA stats: 374 games, 6.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg

The third of a record three first-round draft picks for the Buckeyes in 2007, Cook certainly had his moments in the league. He vacillated between the D-league and the NBA in his first season with the Heat, but did win the 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Shootout while on Miami’s roster.

The highlight of Cook’s career came as a member of the Thunder. Joining Oklahoma City in 2010, he was a solid rotation player for the Thunder as a three-point specialist. His first season in OKC saw Cook shoot 42.2 percent from three in a reserve role and he played in the NBA finals in his second season on the Thunder, the only Matta-coached Buckeye to be able to say that.

After stints with the Rockets and Bulls, Cook has continued to play professionally in Europe.

No. 5 D’Angelo Russell

  • No. 2 pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015

Clearly, this is all based on projection as Russell has yet to play an NBA minute. For me, this is Russell’s absolute basement for these rankings and honestly finishing this low seems pretty unlikely. As the second overall pick he is going to get significant minutes this season and I find it hard to believe he is anything less than a long-time rotational player in the NBA and I think he will be better than that.

Russell could be higher than this as soon as next year and could top the list before it’s all said and done.

No. 4 Kosta Koufos

  • No. 23 pick by the Utah Jazz in 2008
  • NBA stats: 424 games, 5.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Many Ohio State fans remember Koufos’ lone season in Columbus and the trip to NIT and write him off as a complete disappointment, but the center has become a steady rotational player. That may not seem like a great achievement, but considering there are only 360 active roster spots that is a solid accomplishment.

Koufos has been on the Memphis Grizzlies the last two seasons and has managed abut 17 minutes per game for a perennial playoff team.

No. 3 Jared Sullinger

  • No. 21 pick by the Boston Celtics in 2012
  • NBA stats: 177 games, 11.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg

The first of two Celtics on this list, injuries have hindered Sullinger slightly but his skillset seems valued in Boston. He has yet to play 75 games in a season, topping out at 74 during the 2013-14 campaign. The last two seasons, however, Sully has put up 17.3 and 17.7 points per game.

He is never going to be a defensive presence, but if a team can put a defensive-minded center next to him, Sullinger looks like he can be a valuable NBA player. At only 22, the Columbus native has time to continue to develop into a quality NBA starter.

No. 2 Evan Turner

  • No. 2 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2010
  • NBA stats: 388 games, 10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg

The victim of high expectations thanks to being the second selection in a weak draft, the enigmatic Turner has played for three NBA teams in five seasons. While he has not become the franchise player that teams look for this the No. 2 pick, he has proven himself to be an NBA starter.

The versatile guard has five career game winners and in his first season in Boston last year he recorded all three of his career triple-doubles.

No. 1 Mike Conley

  • No. 4 pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007
  • NBA stats: 581 games, 13.4 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.5 spg

You may be able to argue with some of the other guys on this list, but it’s impossible to argue that Conley has been the best Buckeye that Matta has sent to the pros. He has played all eight of his seasons with the Grizzlies, starting the past six and building himself into a scrappy point guard that plays solid defense with a lethal handle.

He has played in the playoffs five times, including playing through a broken face this past season, and has averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 50 playoff games in the brutal Western Conference. He was a second-team All-Defense selection in 2013 and would likely be a perennial All-Star if he played in the point-guard poor East.

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