While three former Buckeyes currently playing in the NBA know they’ll be spending the playoffs watching from home, there are a few Ohio State alums that are still in the thick of the NBA playoff race. With just a couple weeks left in the regular season, now is a good time to see how the Buckeyes in the NBA are doing.
D’Angelo Russell - Los Angeles Lakers
Following a trade on Feb. 9 that sent Russell back to the Lakers, the former Ohio State guard has had a tough time staying on the court recently because of a hip injury. Prior to last night’s game, which he was probable for, the last time Russell was able to play was on March 22. Since being traded by Minnesota, Russell has played in just 11 games for the Lakers.
It has been tough to truly gauge how Russell’s second stint in Los Angeles is going because the Lakers have been dealing with so many injuries since the trade. Not only has Russell been in-and-out of the lineup because of injury, LeBron James also missed a month because of a foot injury he suffered in late February. James returned to the court on Sunday.
Luckily for the Lakers, even though James and Russell have been dealing with injuries, Los Angeles is in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference. The Lakers don’t have any room for error though, as they are just half a game ahead of Dallas, who sits outside of the play-in game spots.
When he has been able to play, Russell has been an important part of the offense for Los Angeles, averaging 18 points per game and 6.4 assists per game. If Davis, James, and Russell are able to stay healthy, the Lakers could make some noise in the playoff race.
Mike Conley - Minnesota Timberwolves
The NBA veteran was a part of the trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Lakers in February. Conley was sent from Utah to Minnesota, with the Lakers shipping Russell Westbrook to Utah in the three-team trade. After a bit of a slow start in his first six games with the Timberwolves that saw him score 51 total points, Conley has seen a big uptick in his offensive production in March.
Prior to the trade, Conley had scored 20 points in a game just once this season. Since the calendar turned to March, the former Buckeye has scored at least 20 points in a game four times. The 15.7 points per game Conley is averaging this month, is four more points per game than the point guard has scored in any other month this season.
Conley has been forced to become more of a scorer since joining the Timberwolves because of injuries. Karl-Anthony Towns has recently returned to the court after being out of action since late November, and Anthony Edwards has missed a few games because of his own injury issues.
With both stars returning to the lineup, Conley won’t have to look for his shot as much, and can focus a little more on distributing the basketball and playing solid defense. Currently the Timberwolves sit seventh in the Western Conference, but there is little room for error with nine teams separated by just five games.
Malaki Branham - San Antonio Spurs
Following a February that saw Branham average 16.8 points per game, the Ohio State rookie’s performance has been a little more hit-or-miss in March. Branham has had four games where he has scored at least 15 points, but he has also had four games where he has scored seven points or less.
Since he is a rookie and we have seen many first year pros hit a wall with the grueling NBA schedule, it’s understandable why Branham’s production might not be quite as consistent as the season winds down.
Unfortunately for Branham, he won’t have to wait too long for a bit of a break, since San Antonio has already been eliminated from playoff contention this season. Following Wednesday night’s game against Utah, the Spurs have just seven games left this season. After getting his legs under him at the professional level, a good bet would be to see Branham be more confident and consistent next year, as the Spurs continue their rebuild to try and return to the playoffs.
Keita Bates-Diop - San Antonio Spurs
Another former Buckeye who is also playing in San Antonio is Keita Bates-Diop. Even though his numbers won’t jump off the page, this has been Bates-Diop’s best season in the NBA. One reason for that is the forward has seen more consistent playing time this year. Bates-Diop has already set career-highs with 60 games played and 35 games started.
The 21.1 minutes per game Bates-Diop is averaging is just under four minutes per game more than his previous career-high of 17.5 minutes per game, which came in the 2019-20 season when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bates-Diop had one of the better offensive games of his career on Friday when he hit four three-pointers and scored 20 points in a loss to Washington. This was the first time this season that Bates-Diop has scored at least 20 points in a game, and the second time this month that he has knocked in four three-pointers in a game.
The uptick in play this season is coming at a perfect time for Bates-Diop since after the season he will be an unrestricted free agent. It is unknown if Bates-Diop is in San Antonio’s plans going forward, but if the Spurs were serious about keeping the Ohio State alum around, they would have signed him to a contract extension already. Even if he doesn’t return to San Antonio, Bates-Diop has shown enough this year on the court that there should be other suitors in the NBA.
Jae’Sean Tate - Houston Rockets
Much like Branham and Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate is playing on a team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. This has been a season to forget for Tate, who has only been able to play in 31 games because of injuries. When Tate has been able to play, his role has been pretty obvious. Houston has relied on the former Buckeye to play somewhere around 20-25 minutes per game.
Unfortunately for Tate, the last time he was able to suit up for the Rockets was on March 19. Since then Tate has been out of action while dealing with a knee injury. Prior to the injury, Tate was hitting double figures on the scoresheet on a consistent basis, with the 10.9 points per game he was averaging in March being his highest total.
Unlike Bates-Diop, Tate doesn’t have to worry about where he’ll be playing next season. During the offseason, Tate signed a three-year contract with the Rockets. Hopefully next season will see Tate healthier and on the court more, since he provides a veteran influence to a team that is full of young talent.
Duane Washington Jr - New York Knicks
After appearing in 31 games for the Phoenix Suns, starting three of those games, Washington was released by the Suns on Feb. 1. On the final day of February, Washington signed a two-way contract with the New York Knicks. Washington has yet to appear for the Knicks, and lately has been dealing with a hip injury that has kept him off the court.