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D'Angelo Russell is a better prospect than Emmanuel Mudiay, and it's not really close

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Deciding between D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay shouldn't be too difficult for NBA teams. Here's why the Ohio State product is a far better prospect.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Score-first point guards are quickly becoming the norm in the NBA rather than the exception. This year's NBA Draft class features two en vogue point guards projected to be picked in the top five: D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA Finals point guard matchup was expected to be Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, two high-caliber lead guards who can both distribute and score in a variety of ways. Not only are they magicians who create offense out of thin air, but they are versatile enough to play off the ball due to their ability to catch and shoot.

Having positional versatility allows for other players like Draymond Green or LeBron James to handle the ball, which creates a more diverse offense that is harder to scout. The more positions and spots from which a player can score, the bigger the threat they are on the floor. That, along with great shooting, passing and ball-handling, is what make Curry and Irving elite point guards.

This is also what gives Russell the edge over Mudiay as a prospect. Mudiay is more athletic, but is far behind Russell in a number of essential areas. Russell epitomizes what teams look for because of his knockdown jumper and his immaculate passing vision. He simply projects to be better at more pertinent skills.

Pure Point Attributes

Both Russell and Mudiay are far ahead of the curve as pure point guards. They are both tall (around 6'5" in shoes), which allows them to scan the court over the defense. They show a willingness to distribute to teammates. They are advanced pick-and-roll playmakers, which is evident by their ability to make accurate passes to the screener and off-ball shooters.

But what separates Russell is his creative passing vision. Mudiay is talented, but Russell is an avant-garde and a creative genius. Here's an example of his originality:

That beautiful pass is only possible because of the technical mastery it takes to make it work. Russell has the vision to make the pass before his receiver breaks on his route and he puts spin on the ball to curl it around the defense, like a pitcher's breaking ball.

Here's what Russell saw when the pass was made:

RussellVision

It was so extraordinary that you may have missed his teammate blowing the layup. That's OK. One game later, the Ohio State point guard attempted the same pass, and this time it worked:

Mudiay hasn't shown that he is capable of divine plays like that. Like Russell, he's a generally efficient passer in common play types. Pocket passes and lobs out of the pick-and-roll come easily to him because of his feel for the game. And though Mudiay is good at finishing strong at the rim, he's even better at throwing outlet passes ahead to his teammates.

They also both have the poise and patience of NBA veterans and the advanced ball handling maneuvers necessary to create space. Here's Mudiay changing pace and euro-stepping into a kick-out pass for the triple.

And here's Russell methodically weaving through the defense to find his cutting teammate:

Both Russell and Mudiay haven't developed their off-hand, but that should come in time. They also have a tendency to try threading the needle on passes they shouldn't attempt. But mistakes like these from teenage point guards are a given. At their current developmental stage, they're ahead of the game already.

Still, Russell makes fewer fundamental mistakes. Mudiay did show signs of improvement while playing for Guangdong in the Chinese Basketball Association, but he was turnover-prone in high school and that carried over at times overseas. When a player leaves his feet, he often gets caught between a shot and a pass, which can result in a risky play or a turnover.

Leaving your feet before the pass works some of the time. It did in the clips above of Russell and Mudiay getting into the teeth of the defense, which positively reinforces the behavior. But it has worked against Mudiay far too frequently and he'll need to have a less lackadaisical attitude when he handles the ball in the NBA.

Both Russell and Mudiay have good pure point guard abilities for their age, but Russell has the edge for his creativity and fundamental habits.

Versatility on Offense

Russell and Mudiay couldn't be any more different as scorers. Russell does most of his damage from mid-range and behind the arc. He's comfortable pulling up off the dribble and he likes to make use of his floater, though he's still mastering it as a weapon. He struggles with contact at the rim, especially against NBA length.

Mudiay, on the other hand, likes to pound the ball and attack the rim relentlessly. He isn't a freak athlete, but he's still a great one. He's able to shimmy his way to the rim, where he handles contact well with his strong frame.

Mudiay has been better at getting to the basket than Russell because of his speed and strength advantage, but that might not be the case in the NBA. Mudiay struggles shooting the ball, which will cause defenders to sag back on him. That'll take away his driving lanes and therefore his greatest weapon on offense.

Mudiay has a tense jumper form. He doesn't turn his lower body very much, which puts strain on the upper body, especially for players with long arms like him. He has a low release and a bad habit of shooting on he way down, both of which make it easy for defenders to contest his shots. His misses aren't long or short, but often to the left and right, which suggests there is an issue with his release.

Mudiay shot a respectable 34.2 percent from three in China, so his shot isn't entirely broken. However, his 57.4 percent from the free throw line could be more indicative of what's to come in the NBA. Historically, a college/international free throw percentage has a stronger correlation with three-point percentage in the NBA.

Above is a sample of 35 of the league's top point guards and their statistics from their final season before entering the NBA, with Russell and Mudiay highlighted.

Mudiay finds himself in the same class as Elfrid Payton and Rajon Rondo, who both shot worse than 61 percent in their final collegiate season. Mudiay is a better three-point shooter than those two, but that is a bad omen. He doesn't have the elite vision that Rondo did out of college, and Payton is a craftier passer.

If we move north of Mudiay, we find some of the common comparisons for him: Russell Westbrook and John Wall. But Mudiay isn't an elite athlete despite the obvious comparisons. He's explosive, but he's not like Westbrook, who will dunk over a 7-footer in traffic. He's incredibly quick, but he's not as fast as Wall. Both were much better free-throw shooters and both have therefore improved their jumpers since entering the NBA.

Mudiay is more like Tyreke Evans, a large combo guard who has never really developed his jumper but gets to the paint at a ferocious rate due to his combination of size, speed, and strength. Mudiay could certainly learn how to shoot well, but that's never an absolute, especially for a player with his type of fundamental problems. It'll take finding the right shooting coach and years of experience to fix these flaws. For some players, that unfortunately never happens.

Russell is already at a high level as a shooter, both off the dribble and when catch-and-shooting. He has smooth mechanics and gets his shots off with a high release. He does have inconsistent footwork, especially when he lands with a wide base, but that is only a minor correction that even the average shooting coach can solve.

Russell is also good running off screens, which is why some analysts confuse him for a shooting guard. He knows how to read the floor using his pure point vision and he uses hesitation and cuts to spring free for shots.

This versatility is what separates him and makes him more like many of the modern elite point guards in the NBA. Mudiay needs the ball in his hands to be a threat, while Russell is always a threat on the floor no matter what. He's comfortable on catch-and-shoots, whether he's standing still or on the move. Yet if you put the ball in his hands, he can make magic happen as a playmaker.

Neither Russell nor Mudiay project as players who can carry an offense all by themselves, but it will be harder to build around Mudiay due to his absence of a jump shot. If he never develops a reliable three-pointer, then his team's big men will need to be able to shoot or else spacing will be a problem.

Russell, meanwhile, has complementary attributes with his elite vision and versatile shooting that will allow him to play a number of different roles for his team. Any team at the top of the draft can select him and seamlessly integrate him into its offense.

That's why deciding between the two should be easy for teams.

★★★

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