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This is why D'Angelo Russell went No. 2 overall

D'Angelo Russell overcame VCU's Havoc defense on his way to a sensational 28-point performance, and he did it in so many different ways. That bodes well for his pro prospects.

SB Nation 2015 March Madness Bracket

This is an updated feature from March. The L.A. Lakers selected D'Angelo Russell with the second pick in the NBA Draft.

Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the country this season. The 19-year-old has an effortless shot release and he's capable of completing passes that'll make you question the laws of physics. At 6'5 with a long wingspan, Russell has all the raw tools necessary to develop into a star playmaker in the NBA.

Russell's 28 points led the Buckeyes to a 75-72 overtime victory over VCU in the opening round of March Madness. He hit 10 of his 20 field goal attempts and also pitched in with six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

But before the tournament, I worried Russell could be a non-factor against Shaka Smart's stifling Havoc defense, since he has struggled against many of the NCAA's stingiest opponents this season.


The numbers dictate that Russell experienced a decline in scoring and passing efficiency against top defenses, but that isn't too surprising for a player who just turned 19 in late February. He may not be as NBA-ready as his reputation, but his dip in numbers don't suggest that he's just accumulating big numbers against bottom-feeders. He is simply adjusting to the NCAA, like any freshman does.

The Rams' lethal defense held Russell in check for only two points in nearly the first 15 minutes of the game. The pick-and-roll has been a heavy part of Russell's offensive success this season, so they were blitzing or trapping him whenever the Buckeyes ran a screen.

Despite the pressure, Russell remained calm and created a few assists opportunities with only one turnover. He has had a tendency to over-dribble at times this season, but for the most part he performed like a mature point guard that was trying to draw attention and create plays for others. Those 15 minutes in and of themselves illustrated why he could be a top NBA point guard.

But Ohio State won't win many games without its star freshman scoring buckets, so head coach Thad Matta made an adjustment to use Russell more off the ball and minimize his reps in isolation and pick-and-roll situations.

Russell responded to the modification with a flurry of buckets to end the first half, which helped Ohio State battle back from a 10-point deficit. Russell's sweet lefty jumper led to two triples and savvy off-ball movement opened him up for a layup.

This is why Russell is such an intriguing draft prospect. When he's not having success scoring on the ball, he's able to shift into a traditional two-guard role and play just as well. He fits the NBA's modern prototype of a combo guard and could probably play either backcourt position no matter where he is drafted.

Russell's production sustained throughout the second half and overtime, as VCU was unable to slow him down.

Russell's natural ability as a point guard shows in his sense of space. The first clip above is a prime example: He notices his defender ball watching, so he fills the space to his right, which creates a perfect passing lane for his teammate. He then makes a patient play by pump faking and drawing the foul.

With a 6'9 wingspan and a speedy release, Russell towers over most point guards and will have no trouble getting his shot off in the NBA. He has had consistent success hitting shots with a hand in his face and he has actually been even better off the dribble, which bodes well for his versatility. Russell's footwork is still developing, but he will likely become an even larger threat off screens and dribble handoffs.

At 6'5, Russell is fully capable of snatching rebounds and taking it the length of the floor. His ability to play in space usually leads to positive results for the Buckeyes, and that was certainly the case against VCU.

In the second half and in overtime, Ohio State scored on all but one transition possession in which Russell got a touch. He did a great job of keeping his head up and reading the defenses and has a remarkable aptitude for making laser passes off the dribble.

It's rare for 19-year-olds to have this level of sense of space and timing, and that's what makes his potential so promising. It's a sign that he has a strong basketball IQ, and those players almost never fail in the NBA, provided they have the talent and athleticism.

The Buckeyes went away from the pick-and-roll after their slow start, but that is where Russell excels the most. He is amazing at getting his man behind him, probing and either going at the rim, pulling up or making a no-look pass to a teammate. VCU's aggressive defense prevented him from making direct assists like this, but he'll get the chance to put that skill on display Saturday against Arizona.

In the meantime, you're going to have to live with this magic trick:

You just don't see players with those handles every day. Russell didn't even score on the play, but his ability to endure a defender breathing down his neck by using an ankle-breaking crossover to create space and put pressure on the defense is special. There's no doubt we'll be seeing this playmaker on highlight reels for years to come.