Duane Washington Jr. made it sound like he had a single, memorable moment playing through his head. Some specific thing he watched over and over on film this summer.
“Going to the basket, seeing three or four dudes wall up and contest my layup, floater, whatever you want to call it,” Washington said.
The “easier play” in that instance, he says, would have been to kick the ball outside to an open Andre Wesson, his Ohio State teammate who shot 42.4 percent from behind the arc as a senior last season. He didn’t choose that option, deciding to take a low-percentage shot through contact.
In reality, Washington might not have had just one possession in mind. He could have been referring to a number of plays from the past two years which fit that description. Confidence as a scorer has never been an issue for the 6-foot-3 combo guard entering his junior season who averaged 11.5 points and 1.4 assists in 24.9 minutes per game last season while shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from 3-point range. But it’s also, at times, comes at a cost.
His decision-making with the ball in his hands – especially in terms of picking and choosing optimal shots – hasn’t always been at the level Chris Holtmann and his staff have desired, and, thus, his offensive steadiness and efficiency haven’t even come close to maxing out.
A delicate balance exists between Washington going overboard with as a score-first combo guard with a green light to fire away and reining him in to such a degree that is doesn’t allow him to take advantage of his best offensive traits. So far in his first two years at Ohio State, he hasn’t found it. Too often, both his game-to-game and in-game consistency wasn’t where it needs to be going forward as the primary scorer in the backcourt.
“All those kind of things are set in stone into my brain now. I'm just super excited for this year and taking a very serious approach.”– Duane Washington Jr. on his maturity
Holtmann, while reiterating that he wants Washington to “utilize his unique gifts in scoring” rather than be a pass-first guard, again said last week that he thinks his junior guard needs to read defenses better.
If Washington has it his way, those issues won’t arise as much in the upcoming season. Entering a pivotal junior year as a Buckeye where he might lead them in points, Washington believes he has turned the corner as a decision-maker.
“Little stuff like that, it makes the game easier for me, makes the game easier for my teammates,” said Washington, continuing to explain why he should have tossed a pass to Wesson. “The more I do create, now they've got to be honest. Now they've got to be fair. It's not just worrying about me just going to the basket and everybody sucking in and then I'm just still throwing up some crap. All that stuff, it's hard for me to understand during that time. Still, to this day, I don't know why. But looking at it now, I have a totally different view on it. I think that's for the better.”
What Washington describes as an altered point of view didn’t just suddenly come to exist out of nowhere. Holtmann has harped on that specific aspect of his game for years. An unconventional offseason perhaps helped spur Washington into making improved decisions with the ball in his hands a reality.
One by one, he pointed to several stars at the next level whom he admires. Many of them, he watched play in the NBA's “bubble” while at home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Stephen Curry. Kemba Walker. Kyrie Irving. Bradley Beal. CJ McCollum.
They have their own intricacies in their games that make each of them special, but in their most basic forms, they’re all score-first combo guards with high usage rates who have no problem getting buckets but aren’t one-dimensional players and do more than just shoot. In that sense, they’re the NBA versions of what Washington wants to become at Ohio State.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I was just kind of fixed on this scoring deal,” Washington said. “That was my main goal. I'm wired to do that. That's what I've been doing my whole life. Obviously, finding other ways to affect the game, whether it's just my presence on the court or just me passing the ball or it's me being the communicator. All these things go into it, and I think that's what I've been working on this offseason to become a better player all-around instead of just focusing on only scoring.”
Of course, considering Ohio State doesn’t start practice until next week, nobody can know with any degree of certainty whether Washington’s encouraging words will actually turn into the desired results this season. Yet last week he spent much of his first interview since the spring harping on changes to himself.
Washington, once returning home when the Buckeyes’ 2019-20 season got cut short, took about a 7-10-day break from basketball before getting back on the court with his cousin and dad – Duane Washington Sr., a former NBA second-round draft pick. They worked on body control and playing through contact since, despite a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, he managed just 41.4 percent shooting from 2-point range. He lucked out with both an in-home full-court gym and weight room to use throughout the offseason.
Getting into a rhythm, they worked out twice or three times a day before he left Michigan to return to Columbus.
The time in the gym, though, wasn’t necessarily the biggest benefit of the time at home. The 20-year-old had “a lot of deep conversations” with his parents about his life. Washington says he had “a lot of time to self-reflect” on things he thought he could have done better his first two seasons as a Buckeye.
“You've got to be mature to be the guy that takes the tough shots at the end of games,” Washington said. “You've got to be mature to be a leader on a team, mentally and physically. You've got to be ready for all the challenges, all the different defenses they throw at you. All those kind of things are set in stone into my brain now. I'm just super excited for this year and taking a very serious approach.”
Realizing he’s about to cross the midpoint of his college career, Washington believes “reality kind of hit” him this offseason.
He sees himself as a different player now than he was the last time he took the court for Ohio State. Later this year, he’ll get a chance to show everybody else whether that’s the case.