Even though the NBA is well past the midway point of the season, the league will break for All-Star Weekend in Cleveland this weekend. Once the teams return from the break, there will be a little over 20 games left for teams to decide whether they are headed to the playoffs, or headed home for a long offseason. Currently, two former Buckeyes look like they’ll be headed for the playoffs in April, while another is just on the outside looking in.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
After returning to the court last week following a three-game injury absence, D’Angelo Russell returned to the form that we became used to seeing from him earlier in the season. In the four games Russell played in since last Wednesday, the former Ohio State guard scored at least 18 points in each of those contests.
Even though it came in a loss, Russell’s best performance of the past week came against Sacramento last Wednesday, when he scored 29 points and dished out 10 assists. Russell recorded another double-double on Tuesday in a 126-120 overtime win against Charlotte, registering 18 points and 11 assists. Russell now has 10 double-doubles this year in 44 games played.
While Russell has had better scoring seasons statistically, this might be his best season in the NBA. The differences between this season and his previous seasons in Brooklyn and Golden State is Russell has some help on the hardwood. In Brooklyn, Russell was the primary option. In his short time with Golden State, Russell only played alongside Steph Curry for five games, and Klay Thompson was injured.
Now Russell not only has Karl-Anthony Towns, but also Anthony Edwards, who is improving with every game in the NBA. Minnesota likely won’t win the Western Conference, but they aren’t going to be an easy out in the NBA Playoffs in a couple months.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
It has been an odd stretch of games lately for Mike Conley. While Utah has found their winning ways again after struggling for much of January, Conley himself has been struggling lately. Last Wednesday, Conley started out the last stretch of games before the All-Star break with a pretty solid performance, where he hit four three-pointers and finished with 13 points.
Things really went downhill for Conley in the next two games, as he was just 4-of-18 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc. Luckily, the Jazz didn’t need much from Conley in those games, winning both by at least 15 points. Conley did make up for his poor shooting night on Monday, recording 10 assists and four steals in the 135-101 win over Houston.
Utah has now won six-straight games heading into Wednesday night’s game. The Jazz don’t necessarily need Conley to have huge offensive games for the team to be successful, but they do need him to be a facilitator and give them solid defensive play. When Utah is playing like they have to start February, there aren’t many teams in the league that can beat them four times in a seven-game series. The Jazz need to find a way to get over the hump this year, because their window is closing.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
For many, this Rockets season can’t end soon enough. Jae’Sean Tate isn’t one of those that wants to see it end soon, as he is undoubtedly savoring every game he gets to play in the NBA after how his professional career started and how hard he had to work just to make it into the league. That toughness and determination is what has earned him a spot in the 2022 NBA Rising Stars Game on Friday night. Not only should Tate get plenty of love from the fans in Cleveland because he is a former Buckeye, he will also be paired with a couple Cavaliers players.
Tate just keeps plugging along with his play on the court. There hasn’t been any crazy dominant performances from Tate, he just goes out there and does his job and hits his averages for the most part on a team that is 15-41 on the year. These are the type of workman-type efforts that we have become accustomed to from Tate.
The one downside of late for Tate has been his three-point shooting. While nobody is expecting Tate to be Steph Curry or Trae Young from beyond the arc, the former Buckeye has started the month just 2-of-14 from three-point range in six games. Tate is shooting 28.9% from distance this season, but this month his shooting percentage has been half of that. Honestly though, that pales in comparison to the rest of the problems the Rockets have on their plate.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
The Pacers revamped some of their roster at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, one of the biggest losers of that roster reshaping has been Duane Washington Jr. The former Ohio State guard has seen a big reduction in his playing time since the addition of Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. In three games over the past week, Washington has played 30 total minutes, scoring just seven points in that span.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Cavaliers, which was the first game with Haliburton and Hield in the mix, Washington had played at least 20 minutes in each of the last six games, and had just two games with less than 10 minutes in 2022. Sunday saw Washington play just 11 minutes, and Tuesday night was even worse, as Washington registered four minutes on the court. It’ll be interesting to see if the Pacers designate more time for Washington on the floor the rest of the season, since they have nothing to lose in taking a longer look at the rookie guard.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
There hasn’t been much of note with the play from Bates-Diop since he exploded against the Lakers in Los Angeles just before Christmas, and that didn’t change over the last week. Bates-Diop played 22 minutes over three games, scoring a combined 13 points as the Spurs went 1-2.
The break for the All-Star Game should give Bates-Diop more time to recover from COVID-19, which has affected the forward’s conditioning according to head coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs could use a healthy Bates-Diop the rest of the way, with San Antonio being just a couple games out of 10th place, which would see them qualify for one of the new play-in games the NBA has used to decide the last two playoff spots in each conference over the past two seasons.