With the college football season in the rearview mirror, and the NFL getting ready to kick off the playoffs, more attention is going to be given to the NBA. We are just over a month away from the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, and it feels like the big stars of the league have already tested positive for COVID-19, which will hopefully keep them on the court as the season heads towards the playoffs.
Even though there are only a few former Buckeyes in the NBA, we did have some “Buckeye-on-Buckeye crime” last week, as there were two games that saw former Ohio State hoopers square off. With four of the Buckeye alums playing in the Western Conference, we are likely to see more instances of former Ohio State players battling the rest of the season.
Mike Conley, Point Guard | Utah Jazz
Mike Conley’s week wasn’t one to remember. Even though the Jazz were able to beat Denver last Wednesday, they kicked off an eastern road trip with losses to Indiana and Detroit. Utah has been dealing with COVID-19 issues recently, which could explain some of the subpar play against the Pacers and Pistons.
Conley’s assist numbers over the last week were above average, but the point guard needed to distribute more since he had a hard time putting the rock in the basket. In each of Conley’s last three games, the veteran dished out at least six assists, totaling 21 overall during that stretch. The former Buckeye now has at least six assists in four of Utah’s five this month. By comparison, in the month of December, Conley had at least six assist in the six of the 12 games he played.
Utah currently sits third in the Western Conference, but the surging Memphis Grizzlies are hot on their tail. Including last night’s game against Cleveland, Utah has a couple tough road games this week, taking on Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and Monday before returning home to host Jae’Sean Tate and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. At least the Jazz have a seven-game lead on the Nuggets for the lead in the Northwest Division.
D’Angelo Russell, Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
After struggling just after Christmas, one of the hotter teams in the NBA recently has been the Minnesota Timberwolves. Before losing to New Orleans on Tuesday evening, the Timberwolves had won four straight games. It’s no coincidence that a lot of Minnesota’s success came once D’Angelo Russell returned to the lineup after clearing health and safety protocols.
The point guard did struggle in his first game back, going just 3-12 from the field. The cold shooting didn’t last, as Russell missed just one of his 12 shot attempts a couple days later against Oklahoma City. Not only was Russell scoring, he was also getting others involved, dishing out at least 10 assists in each of the last three games. The former Buckeye now has at least 10 assists in five of the last six games he has appeared in.
Russell met former teammates Jae’Sean Tate on Sunday night in Houston. Minnesota easily defeated the Rockets 141-123, with Russell recording a double-double, scoring 22 points and being credited with 10 assists. The Timberwolves opened up a 21-point lead at halftime, and never were challenged in the second half. Russell and Minnesota have now won both meetings with Tate and the Rockets so far this season.
Jae’Sean Tate, Small Forward | Houston Rockets
Speaking of Jae’Sean Tate, the forward had a solid start to the week, but his numbers dwindled towards the end. Tate was a key player in the 114-111 win at Washington last Wednesday, notching a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Rockets. Tate nearly had his sixth double-double of the season on Friday, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight boards in the 130-106 loss to Dallas.
As mentioned earlier, Tate and the Rockets fell to D’Angelo Russell and the Timberwolves on Sunday. Russell definitely got the better of Tate, but it’s not like Tate was awful in the game. The second-year forward was 5-6 from the field, finishing with 10 points. Tate also had seven rebounds and four assists. The issue in the game was Houston is still such a young team that they weren’t able to keep pace with a more experienced Minnesota squad. Houston is essentially now where the Timberwolves were a few years ago when it comes to a rebuild.
Keita Bates-Diop, Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
There’s no question that Keita Bates-Diop has seen an increase in playing time recently. In each of San Antonio’s last four games, Bates-Diop has played over 25 minutes. It’s hard to say that Bates-Diop is making much of an impact, though. It feels more like the Former Buckeyes is just a body out there for the Spurs right now eating up minutes, as San Antonio has been dealing with COVID-19 issues recently. The Spurs have been without Keldon Johnson, and a number of other players over the last week.
Over those four games, Bates-Diop has reached double figures in scoring just once, scoring 10 points in a double-overtime loss to Brooklyn. Even though Bates-Diop has nearly double his playing time so far this month compared to the first two months of the season, it’s hard to see teams possibly being interested in him before the trade deadline, since aside from an outstanding performance against the Lakers before Christmas, he just isn’t showing a whole lot on the court. If Bates-Diop can’t make some noise on a San Antonio team that’s pretty bad, it doesn’t leave a lot of hope that a change in scenery might brighten things up on the court for him.
Duane Washington Jr., Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
Even though the play hasn’t exactly been crisp, it has been great seeing Duane Washington Jr. get some playing time in the NBA this year, especially after so many questioned his decision to leave college. Unfortunately it looks Washington’s playing time might be decreasing, and soon he might be headed back to Fort Wayne in the G-League.
Washington was brought up after much like many other teams, Indiana had COVID-19 issues they had to work through. Now with players returning from health and safety protocols, as well as from injury, Washington might be the odd man out. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with heading back to the G-League to work on things to be more prepared for the next time the NBA calls.
What is likely to keep Washington from staying on the Pacers’ NBA roster is his shooting. We have known that Washington’s shooting can be both a gift and a curse, and recently it has been a bit of a curse. Over Indiana’s last three games, Washington was just 10-34 from the field, and for the season he is shooting 35.2% from the field and 27.9% from behind the arc.
At least Washington can say he outdueled former Buckeye Mike Conley. On Saturday, Washington scored 16 points and dished out five assists in Indiana’s 125-113 win over Utah. Conley scored just nine points for Utah in the loss. While Utah and Indiana are headed in different directions, beating a fellow Buckeye alum will be something he certainly will remember.