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E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington should return, but deserve praise if they don’t

Coming off a successful year — and with room to improve — will the team’s top scorers return? Or are they sick and tired of the Twitter “tough guys”?

Could we be seeing just one of these players return for Chris Holtmann’s team?
Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

Just nine days apart, on March 31st and April 9th respectively, Ohio State’s two leading scorers from the 2020-21 season both announced they were entering the NBA Draft. No need to hit the panic button yet, as Liddell and Washington are both choosing to go through the pre-draft process without hiring an agent. Players who choose this route maintain their eligibility, and have until July 7 to withdrawal.

This window of time will give both players an opportunity to work out for NBA teams and receive feedback regarding their skills, where they may or may not go in the draft, etc. As of right now, neither Liddell nor Washington is projected to be drafted.

As much as we appreciate what these guys have done for OSU, they are flawed NBA prospects. E.J. Liddell is essentially a 6-foot-7 power forward with slightly above average athleticism and a still-developing outside game. Undersized power forwards are few and far between in the NBA, and need something to hang their hat on.

P.J. Tucker of the Milwaukee Bucks is a perfect example: although limited offensively, Tucker has carved out a long NBA career by knocking down corner threes and being an absolute nightmare on defense. While Liddell can get buckets in ways Tucker only dreams of doing, that is against college defenders, but his defense is nowhere near the level of a highly sought after three-and-D NBA wing.

That being said, Liddell has tons of room to grow. He went from a sparkplug freshman with no outside shot, to first team All-Big Ten stud who averaged 17 points per game — while improving his three point percentage from 19 to 34 percent. He finished ninth in the Big Ten with a respectable seven rebounds per game, and his trajectory is clearly pointing up. So there is absolutely a path for him to play in the NBA, but his game needs refinement.

A great comparison — and one to a guy who has enjoyed 15 years of NBA success — is Paul Millsap. Liddell and Millsap are the same height, and at his playing weight, Paul had five to 10 pounds on E.J., but their games are similar. However, despite the fact that Millsap was a 20 point and 13 rebound guy in college, he still waited until pick 47 to hear his name called in the 2006 draft.

E.J. Liddell getting buckets like he is prone to do
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike E.J., Duane Washington is probably close to a finished product. A veteran of 94 games with the Buckeyes, he has improved and progressed for three years. He has been a steady presence and surprisingly effective leader. While there were rumors Washington would leave the program with the likes of Luther Muhammad and D.J. Carton, he worked to improve. He bet on himself, rather than looking for opportunity elsewhere.

You know what you are getting with Duane: the “No, no, no… yes!” shots might drive you crazy, but Washington has come up clutch many times for Ohio State. He is the quintessential irrational confidence/heat check guard.

However, he is undersized for an off-ball guard, he’s also turnover prone and has “questionable” shot selection. There are areas of his game which Washington can still develop and improve. Size can’t be taught, but better decision making can.

C.J. McCollum comes to mind as an NBA comparison. Duane Washington is nowhere near the stratosphere of McCollum as a shooter, but he could follow a similar path as a sharp shooting four-year college player without the greatest playmaking chops. Maybe a stretch, but it’s a thought.

Duane Washington with one of his higher percentage shots
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

All of this is to say: for every one-and-done college player who falls off the face of the basketball earth, there is a success story about the guy who sticks around. E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington do not need to hear it from me or you. There are hundreds of thousands, or potentially even millions of dollars to be made whether they play in the NBA or overseas. They will have to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, and they undoubtedly have people around them that now far more about how their skills will transfer to the league than you or I do. In Washington’s case both his father and uncle played in the NBA, so you know he’s going to get the best advice possible.

If Liddell and Washington decide to leave for paid opportunities, more power to them. They have worked hard and earned that right. The basketball Buckeyes will be just fine. They have experienced Big Ten players coming back or joining the program, and an exciting group of freshman coming in — highlighted by Malaki Branham.

Despite some of the postseason garbage on social media, Buckeye Nation would love to have both players back. Threats and harmful comments were made by a small group of trolls online, and those individuals should be ostracized for. These are college kids playing a game; there is simply no room for veiled threats from keyboard warriors.

While those idiots likely never had any intentions of following through on their threats, those things can still be terrifying. They hurt and are impactful to those on the receiving end. So maybe the decisions of Liddell and Washington are made easier by the actions of a few; and if they are, I couldn’t blame them. However, here’s hoping E.J. and Duane will remember the good times and run it back for another exciting year.