NBA scout: OSU's E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr. intriguing but unlikely draft picks
In playing their way onto all-Big Ten teams last season, both E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. further established themselves as elite basketball players.
What that means in terms of their 2021 NBA draft stock, though, remains to be seen. In the eyes of one NBA team scout, who requested anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak publicly about the team’s evaluations of players, both present intriguing profiles to the league but are likely not yet ready to make the jump.
“I think if they stayed in they’re running the risk of the higher percentage of them not getting drafted,” the scout said. “I think right now they’re both G-League guys. I think they could possibly get drafted late 50s or go undrafted. I don’t think they’re early second round, mid-second round. I see them as late or not-drafted guys.”
Both players were among the 353 included on the NBA’s official early entry list released Wednesday morning. Liddell and Washington have gone through the process while retaining their collegiate eligibility, and all such prospects have until July 7 to withdraw from the draft process and maintain their eligibility. The next development to watch will be the list of players invited to participate in the NBA draft combine, which will take place June 21-27.
E.J. Liddell's shooting intriguing for 2021 NBA draft
Listed at 6 feet 7, 240 pounds, Liddell projects as a power forward at the next level and will play the position exclusively should he return to Ohio State. As a sophomore, he earned first-team all-Big Ten honors after averaging 16.2 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds in what was a breakout season.
“His ability to face up and make shots is something that may have some attractiveness to maybe some teams,” the scout said. “I think he’s slightly undersized for a frontline player. I think he’s somewhat limited vertically and maybe even horizontally, to switch, but his offensive capabilities are his ability to face and make shots can be attractive maybe to a certain system or organization.”
NBA draft experts don't rate Buckeyes' Duane Washington Jr.
In a list compiled by NBA draft analyst Chad Ford, Liddell is rated as a potential second-round pick with a draft range of being picked 40th to going undrafted while Washington is rated as “likely undrafted.” The updated draft big board compiled by Sam Vecenie at The Athletic has Liddell as the No. 79 overall prospect while Washington doesn’t appear among the list of 100 names.
As a junior, Washington was named third-team all-Big Ten after he led the team at 16.4 points per game and shot 37.4% on three-pointers on 238 attempts, the third-highest single-season total in Ohio State history. Washington has increased his scoring, rebounding and assist averages as well as his shooting percentage in each of his three seasons with the Buckeyes. During the past two seasons, he’s also handled some more point guard responsibilities, which could make him more desirable to NBA teams.
“I think there’s more ceiling for Duane than E.J.,” the scout said. “I don’t see E.J. growing any more, and I think he’s kind of locked into what he does well. Duane’s strength is the ability to make some shots. Even though he’s a little bit undersized he could develop into maybe a combo guard. He can get his shot off within some space. Now, he’s not a creator, I don’t think, but he can be an open shot maker, if you will.”
Both will have elements of their game that need improving should they return to Ohio State for the 2021-22 school year. For Liddell, the scout said, it would be continued focus on his physical abilities that would allow him to grow as a perimeter defender. For Washington, the to-do list would include becoming a more consistent shooter while also growing as a ball-handler.
“Another year would help those guys improve their status in terms of being in a better position to get drafted,” the scout said. “If they stayed in, I think both of those guys would go directly to the G-League and they would improve that way as well but they wouldn’t get the benefits of playing in 30 games, 40 games, whatever it is.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann keeping in contact
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has been in contact with both players and their families throughout the process, helping them get as much honest feedback as possible. Liddell’s father, Eric, told The Dispatch in early April that eight NBA teams were planning to host the Buckeye for in-person workouts, something that wasn’t possible last year due to COVID-19.
Both guys are players who would benefit from such opportunities, the scout said.
“Like I tell kids all the time, ‘Hey man, there’s 30 teams. Only one of ‘em gotta like you,’ ” the scout said. “You’ve only got to impress one guy or one organization enough to pull the trigger one way or another.
I would be shocked if a number of teams don’t bring both (Liddell and Washington) in.”
What that means for Ohio State won’t be known for at least a few more weeks. Both are expected to remain in classes for the interim as they work out what their next step might be. And should they return to Ohio State?