Now that All-Star Weekend has come and gone, the lights at the end of the regular season are starting to get a little brighter. Three of the five Buckeyes currently in the NBA look like they will be spending the postseason at home, but we still will likely be able to watch two Ohio State alums in the playoffs. If how they returned to the court last week was any indication on how the rest of the season is going to go for them, it’s going to be a fun ride watching D’Angelo Russell and Mike Conley this spring.
Point Guard | Minnesota Timberwolves
A little extra rest has gone a long way for D’Angelo Russell over the past week. In Minnesota’s first game after the All-Star Break, Russell scored a season-high 37 points in a 119-114 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The previous high mark in scoring this season for Russell came in a double overtime victory over Philadelphia back in November. The former Buckeye nearly notched a double-double against the Grizzlies by dishing out nine assists.
The strong play from Russell has carried over to Minnesota’s last three games following the win over Memphis, with Russell scoring at least 20 points in each of those games. After crossing the 20-point mark in three of the seven games heading into the All-Star Break, Russell now has reached that number in each of his last four games.
With his recent scoring outburst, Russell now sits 48 points away from 1,000 points this season. When the point guard reaches that number, it will be the third time Russell has hit the 1,000-point scoring mark in the season. While Russell should have no problem passing his 1,054 points from his rookie year, he won’t have enough games left to challenge his personal best of the 1,712 points he scored during the 2018-19 season with Brooklyn.
Small Forward | Houston Rockets
Even though the Houston Rockets are challenging to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, Jae’Sean Tate continues to give the Rockets strong play every time he takes the floor. What has been great about Tate this year is how consistent he has been. On Friday night, Tate scored 13 points, and followed that up with 14 points on Sunday, and 12 points on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Houston, all three of those games ended up being losses.
It would have been easy for Tate to pull back on his effort a little bit with how bad the Rockets have played this year, but the former Buckeye is playing hard every game for Houston. After a 4-10 January, Houston was even worse last month, as their only win in February came in their first game of the month against Cleveland. Since then, the Rockets have lost 10 straight games.
Houston, Detroit, and Orlando all have an NBA-low 15 wins this year, with the Rockets having a slightly better record since they have played one less game than the other two teams. The race to get the best shot at the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft is going to be quite an exercise in futility.
Point Guard | Utah Jazz
While the Houston Rockets won just one game in February, the Utah Jazz only lost one game in the year’s shortest month. The 8-1 month was essential for Utah after they went just 4-12 in January. Had Utah continued their struggles from January, it’s likely that Dallas and Denver, who are both 8-2 in their last 10 games, would have moved ahead of the Jazz in the Western Conference standings.
Donovan Mitchell is doing the heavy lifting for Utah on the score sheet lately, leading the team in scoring in seven of the last eight games. Just the presence of Mike Conley on the court with Mitchell makes the young guard a lot more dangerous. Even though Conley doesn’t score quite at the same clip as he used to, he is still shooting over 40% from three-point range, which means opponents can’t lose track of the former Buckeye.
Conley has also picked up his play on the defensive end this year. So far this season Conley has 18 blocks, putting him six away from tying his career-high. The guard has also been able to force more opponent turnovers this year, as he is on pace to record nearly 80 steals this year, which would give him his highest total in a season since 2018-19 when he was credited with 94 steals with Memphis.
Small Forward | San Antonio Spurs
There’s no denying that most of this season for Keita Bates-Diop has been forgettable. Bates-Diop has had a couple bright spots this season, though. You have to give Bates-Diop credit because when he has shined this year, he has been incredibly bright.
Just before Christmas, Bates-Diop stunned the NBA by scoring 30 points in Los Angeles against the Lakes in what would be the final game the arena would be called Staples Center. The Ohio State alum’s second-best game of the season came on Saturday night when he scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 133-129 loss to Miami. This came a night after the Spurs defeated Washington 157-153 in double overtime. Bates-Diop wasn’t much of a factor against the Wizards, netting just six points in 14 minutes.
Even though Bates-Diop is averaging 15.6 minutes per game, it’s not all negative when it comes to what he has done on the court this year. Bates-Diop is nearing his season-high scoring total for a season, and he has already set new career-high marks in rebounding and steals. It’s obvious that when trusted, Bates-Diop can make plays, the problem is it has been tough for him to get many chances during his time in the NBA.
Duane Washington Jr.
Point Guard | Indiana Pacers
With the acquisition of Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings, there’s not a lot of playing time left out there for Duane Washington Jr. The rookie guard played 50 minutes over three games since the All-Star Break, shooting 6-of-20 from the floor and scoring 15 total points during that span.
What is really hurting Washington is he was more a volume shooter at Ohio State, and sometimes it would take him a bit to find his shot, but he kept firing away to work his way out of a slump. Washington doesn’t have that luxury in the NBA, especially with the veteran pieces Indiana already has in the backcourt. Maybe the Pacers find a way to get Washington some more playing time since they are just 21-42 this year, but it feels like it might be hard to see that happening, because they are going to want to give their new pieces on the team more time on the floor to gel for the future.