Most of the eyes in the basketball world have been on the NCAA Tournament over the past week. On Sunday we saw Ohio State’s season end with a loss to Villanova, and now we will have to wait to see how many Buckeyes will opt to try and make the jump to the league. Those that do will join the five former Buckeyes currently in the NBA.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
Not much has gone right this season for the Indiana Pacers, as Rick Carlisle’s team has already been eliminated from playoff contention with a 25-47 record prior to Wednesday’s game against Sacramento. While the Pacers will want to forget about most of what has gone on this season, at least Indiana’s poor record did allow them to get a lengthy look at Duane Washington Jr.
After some inconsistent play in the first 32 games he played in this year, the rookie has been playing consistent basketball over his last eight games. While Washington had some big games prior to the month of March, he also had some games where he was really off with his shot. That hasn’t been the case in March for the former Ohio State guard. Following an ugly first game of the month that saw him go just 1-of-9 from the field, Washington has hit at least 38.5% of his field goal attempts in each of the last eight games. During that span, Washington has hit at least two three-pointers and scored at least 11 points in every game.
There’s no reason to think that Washington’s playing time is going to drop off over Indiana’s last 10 games of the season. If anything, we could see Washington earn more playing time if he continues to put up solid numbers. The Pacers are obviously in rebuilding mode, so it would be wise for the team to give Washington some extended time on the court to see how he closes out the year and where he might fit in the plans of the team going forward.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
Following the month of February, which saw Russell produce his best scoring month of the season, the former Ohio State guard hasn’t been able to find his rhythm in March. Luckily the struggles of Russell this month haven’t resulted in losses for Minnesota, who entered Wednesday night’s game against Phoenix at 42-31 this season, which puts them in seventh place in the Western Conference, 6.5 games ahead of the eighth place Los Angeles Clippers.
With nine games left to play in the regular season, the Timberwolves have their sights set on the Denver Nuggets, who sit just a game ahead of Minnesota in sixth place in the conference. If the Timberwolves are able to move up a spot in the standings, they’ll avoid the play-in tournament at the end of the regular season.
To catch the Nuggets, or even the fifth place Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota is going to need Russell to be at the top of his game, since they have no margin for error. Through 10 games this month, Russell is averaging just 14.5 points per game, which is 2.6 points per game lower than his previous low mark this season, when he averaged 17.1 points per game during games in December.
The best performance recently for Russell came on Saturday in Minnesota’s 138-119 win over the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Russell hit four three-pointers and finished with 16 points and nine assists in the fourth consecutive win for the Timberwolves. The four triples were the most shots Russell hit from behind the arc in a game this month, and just the second time in March that he hit at least 50% of his three-point attempts in a game.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
Another Ohio State alum that has been struggling lately has been Mike Conley. Following a start to the season that saw him average at least 13.6 points per game in the first four months, Conley has seen his offensive production drop considerably, averaging just 11.8 points per game in February, followed by 11.3 points per game this month.
The good news for Utah is that even though Conley is having trouble putting together consistent efforts on the offensive end, he is picking up the slack on the defensive end. Through nine games in March, Conley is averaging 2.1 steals per game, which is the first month this season in which he has averaged at least two thefts per game. Conley also has 20 blocks on the season, which leaves him four shy of tying his career-high in one season.
With five games this month in which he has failed to reach double figures in scoring, a lot of Utah fans have to be wondering if they can trust Conley in the playoffs. The Jazz don’t need Conley to be a huge scorer since they already have Donovan Mitchell, who averages 26 points per game. What Utah needs Conley to do is run the offense and get the basketball into the hands of Mitchell and the other Jazz scorers. Where Conley will be valuable is when teams give him space behind the arc, then the veteran can make opponents pay since he is shooting 40% from three-point range. While Utah might not be a favorite to make a run to the NBA Finals, they certainly will make whoever they match up against work for every victory.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have to be counting the games until their nightmare of a season can be over. About the only good thing to happen for the Rockets this year is they currently are sitting with the worst record in the league, which would give them the best shot at getting the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft in the draft lottery — which happens during the playoffs. Then again, it’s not a given that the team with the league’s worst record will win the lottery.
Jae’Sean Tate has been a consistent piece for the Rockets all year, but you can tell that shouldering so much responsibility on one of the league’s worst teams has taken its toll. After returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for a couple games a few weeks ago, Tate hasn’t played nearly as much as we had become accustomed to throughout the season. The 21 minutes per game Tate is averaging in March is three minutes per game fewer than his lowest monthly average this season, which came at the beginning of the year in October.
Not only are Tate’s minutes down, he isn’t generating as much offense as he did prior to this month. In March, Tate has six games where he has failed to reach double figures in scoring. By comparison, in the first two months of 2022, Tate didn’t score at least 10 points in only four games. It’s hard to see Tate getting a big bump in minutes the rest of the season, since the Rockets might want to give some other players some time with the team having nothing to play for. While Tate has been solid for the Rockets, he probably isn’t in the team’s long-term plans since he came into the league as an older rookie. The team also might not want to push him to much the rest of the year since he did have some ankle issues a few weeks ago.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
Keita Bates-Diop didn’t play at all last week due to a back injury that he has been dealing with. The former Buckeye forward was said to be available for Wednesday night’s game against the Trailblazers, so he could see some action in San Antonio’s final 10 games of the season as the Spurs fight to earn a spot in the play-in tournament.