With the trade deadline passing on Thursday, and the NBA All-Star Game taking place next Sunday, we are entering the playoff push of the NBA season. A couple former Buckeyes were dealt on Thursday in a trade, while a rookie is starting to show why he was a first round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Unfortunately, this round-up is down one from the last time we updated how the basketball Buckeyes in the NBA were doing. After filling in while Phoenix was dealing with some injuries, the Suns waived Duane Washington Jr. at the beginning of the month.
D’Angelo Russell - Guard - Los Angeles Lakers
It’s not very often you see a team trade for a player after trading him away a number of years prior. Russell was drafted by the Lakers with the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, spending two years in Los Angeles before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Russell bounced around a bit, spending some time with the Nets before having a cup of coffee with the Golden State Warriors, and then getting traded to Minnesota in the Andrew Wiggins deal.
The trade is a bit surprising, since it looked like Russell had found some comfort with the Timberwolves, playing with Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert. Russell was having a solid season in Minneapolis, averaging 17.9 points per game and 6.2 assists per game, but Minnesota felt they needed to shake things up.
The former Buckeye had a couple strong performances in his final games with the Timberwolves, recording a couple double-doubles to begin the month. Last Friday, Russell scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The guard followed it up with 18 points and 10 assists in a win over Denver on Sunday.
Even though Russell was part of a strong collection of talent in Minneapolis, he has to be elated to be now playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While Russell moves down the Western Conference standings with his new team, the Lakers are only 3.5 games behind Golden State, who currently sits seventh in the conference. A revamped roster in Los Angeles could be the spark the team needs to vault into a playoff position.
Mike Conley - Minnesota Timberwolves
Another former Buckeye was part of the three-way trade that sent Russell to Los Angeles. Mike Conley was sent to Minnesota to take Russell’s spot at point guard. Not only will Conley reunite with former teammate Rudy Gobert, he’ll also provide veteran experience that will pair nicely with young stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Even though Conley might not have as much on his fastball anymore, he still knows how to get things done. Prior to the trade, Conley was playing some of his best basketball of the season. To kick off February, Conley scored 19 points and dished out eight assists against Toronto, and followed the output up by scoring a season-high 20 points last Friday, and on Monday he notched his fifth double-double, putting up 10 points and getting credit for 11 assists.
After a great start to the season, it’s obvious that Utah doesn’t have what it takes to hang in the Western Conference. Trading Conley to a contender could be just the spark the former Ohio State guard needs. While acquiring Conley isn’t quite as big of a splash as what Dallas and Phoenix did, the move feels just right for Minnesota, who needed a veteran in the backcourt to distribute to the young stars of the Timberwolves.
Malaki Branham - San Antonio Spurs
Unfortunately for Malaki Branham, he won’t be a part of this year’s NBA Playoffs, as the Spurs sit 13.5 games back for 10th spot in the Western Conference. With San Antonio’s fate already sealed this year, along with injuries and some recent trades, Branham has seen a boost in playing time recently. The rookie has played at least 29 minutes in each of the last five games.
On Friday night, Branham was part of a wild game in Detroit that saw the Pistons beat the Spurs 138-131 in double overtime. Branham played 43 minutes in the game, scoring a career-high 27 points. The output marked the third time this month that Branham has cracked the 20-point barrier. Prior to February, Branham had just one 20-point game this season.
It’s obvious that Branham is part of the long-term plan in San Antonio. While there isn’t much for the Spurs to play for the rest of the year, the last 25 games of the season should give Branham a chance to show more of his skills after he saw his playing time limited in the first half of the season. A solid finish to year could build some confidence in the rookie and setup a breakout second season.
Keita Bates-Diop - San Antonio Spurs
After a rough start to his career in San Antonio, it looks like Keita Bates-Diop is settling into his role with the team. Bates-Diop has been healthier this year than he was last year, playing in 42 games so far this season, starting 21 of those contests. San Antonio showed their faith in the former Buckeye, holding onto the forward after sending out a number of players near the trade deadline.
Along with the trades, San Antonio has been dealing with some injuries, with has seen Bates-Diop’s role expand lately. Over the last nine games, the forward has recorded at least 25 minutes on the court in each of those contests. In the double overtime loss on Friday night at Detroit, Bates-Diop scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out five assists, and swatted three shots in 43 minutes, marking one of his best games of the season.
Jae’Sean Tate - Houston Rockets
Much like Branham and Bates-Diop in San Antonio, Tate and the Rockets are in the basement of the Western Conference, with the two teams from Texas battling to try and avoid having the worst record in the conference. As if playing on a losing team wasn’t bad enough, Tate spent most of the first half of the year dealing with an injury. So far this season, Tate has appeared in just 18 games, starting three contests.
While there has been a lot of bad news for Tate and the Rockets this year, the former Buckeye has at least been playing better basketball lately as his conditioning has improved after returning from injury. At the end of January, Tate has a three-game stretch where he scored at least 10 points in each of those games. On Wednesday night in a 130-128 loss to Sacramento, Tate scored 16 points, which is his highest total so far this season.