The Philadelphia 76ers Should Target ex-Montverde Academy Star D’Angelo Russell

Mar 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Montverde Academy has produced three NBA lottery picks in the last 5 years, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and D’Angelo Russell. Could a reunion be with the Philadelphia 76ers?

­Montverde Academy is a private boarding school in Montverde, Florida. Most high school athletic programs can only enroll students from their geographic location. But Montverde is not most high schools.  Montverde competes on an international level and capable of enrolling students from virtually anywhere.

The player who initially put Montverde on the map as a hotbed for young NBA talent was former 76er forward Luc Mbah a Moute.  He played for the school from 2001-2005. As many 76ers fans know, Luc is responsible for discovering a young Joel Embiid at one of his basketball camps in his native Cameroon in 2011.


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Upon Mbah a Moute’s recommendation, Joel Embed would follow in his mentor’s footsteps and enroll in the Montverde Academy.

Though Embiid would eventually transfer from Montverde after one season due in part to a lack of playing time, he would spend one season as a teammate of a young prospect from Kentucky named D’Angelo Russell.

While the duo did become fast friends, D’Angelo Russell‘s Montverde Eagles wouldn’t truly breakout national until the team enlisted the services of an Australian point forward named Ben Simmons.

In the two seasons that Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell played together at Montverde Academy their team was unstoppable. They would go on to lose only two games, including a 28-0 2013-2014 season, in the duo’s tenure together, and ultimately won two consecutive high school national championships.

Ben Simmons, even then, was considered an A+ floor general and helped Russell to average 19.3 points per game during his senior season, and ultimately become the No. 1 shooting guard prospect in the nation.

2015 NBA Draft

After spending a season at Ohio State University, D’Angelo Russell declared for the 2015 NBA draft. He was considered by many to be the best backcourt player in the entire draft and was a consensus top-3 draft pick. Many 76ers fans desperately hoped that he would fall to No. 3, but alas, it was not meant to be, and Russell was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the Second overall pick.

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While Russell was compared to NBA greats like Penny Hardaway during the draft process, his first two seasons in the NBA have been extremely up and down. Though he has averaged an impressive 14.2 points per game in his first two seasons in the NBA, Russell has inexplicably averaged less than 4 assists per game over 28.3 mpg  as the Lakers’ starting point guard.

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While D’Angelo Russell’s scoring has never been an issue, his inconsistent energy level on the court has led the Lakers to start Jordan Clarkson at point guard for stretches of the month of March. Clarkson, a former second round pick from Missouri who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the team this past offseason, has further complicated Russell’s place on the team.

Brilliant Flash

On March 20, 2017 D’Angelo Russell had his best game as a pro, in a last minute start at shooting guard. After an illness sidelined Nick Young for the Lakers’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Russell received the go-ahead to start, and rewarded his team by scoring 40 points in 41 minutes. Though the Lakers prefer Russell with the ball in his hand, it is fair to wonder if his best position in the NBA could be at shooting guard, a position he excelled at in high school.

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If the Lakers do want their franchise point guard to be a facilitator, a skill set that Russell may never develop, this year’s draft could present a perfect opportunity for the team to acquire one. Currently the second worst team in the NBA, the Lakers could very well end up in the position to draft a player like Lonzo Ball come June’s draft . Though he is not the pure scorer Russell is, he may very well be a better fit overall for the Lakers’ scheme in both the short and long term.

Lakers Pick

While missing out on the Lakers’ top-three protected draft pick would be a major letdown for both the 76ers and the team’s fan base, it could lead to a unique opportunity for the team. If the Lakers do decide to draft a point guard top-three in the draft, all signs point to Russell being the player who becomes expendable.

Maybe the 76ers would be able to acquire the former Montverde Academy star in exchange for a player like Jahlil Okafor.

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It’s no secret that Magic Johnson, the Laker’ President of Basketball Operations, is a huge fan of Okafor’s game.  In fact, he may want to pair his new franchise point guard with a young, offensively minded big man. While Okafor may not play another game for the 76ers after a recent string of injuries, his tape could be enough to intrigue the Lakers.  Furthermore, a change of scenery may be just what he needs to blossom into the force of nature that many NBA analysts projected him to be coming out of Duke.

Trade Okafor?

While a change of scenery for Okafor could be beneficial, it could be even better for Russell. Inserting D’Angelo into a starting lineup with his ex-high school teammates could yield amazing returns. Playing alongside Ben Simmons would allow Russell to spend less time focusing on ball handling, and could instead focus on getting open and taking better shots. A player like Russell, a 35 percent 3-point shooter, could also help to space the floor when combined with inside scoring threats like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, thus make the team even more dangerous.

If the 76ers truly want to take the next step towards competing for NBA championships in the coming years, they will need to start adding players who complement their current budding stars. While taking the best player available year after year is a good way to acquire talent, it often leads to an unbalanced roster, which the Lakers and 76ers currently have.

Compliment Roster

Bryan Colangelo’s priority this offseason is finding players who compliment Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.  D’Angelo Russell may very well be the best option available.

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D’Angelo and Ben have arguably played the best basketball of their young careers while teammates at Montverde Academy.  So it falls to reason that a reunion in Philly could help to optimize the duo’s NBA potential.

Adding Russell to the 76ers roster would give the team a multi-dimensional budding star.  As a bonus, he already has chemistry with the team’s two best players. No player acquisition is ever a guaranteed success.  Still, adding D’Angelo Russell to the Philadelphia 76ers could be the team’s safest bet.