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Suns guard Duane Washington Jr. stepping up well with Cam Payne, Landry Shamet out

Washington’s scoring has been much-needed for a depleted Suns team

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

An undrafted rookie in 2021, Duane Washington Jr. made his presence felt as a first-year player for the Indiana Pacers last season, when he averaged 9.9 points across 48 games and even set a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a game by a rookie (seven).

Washington Jr. signed a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns Aug. 3 and has since become a part of their rotation that has been especially needed in their current six-game road trip. Phoenix has struggled as a whole lately with four losses in its last five games (before a three-game winning streak prior to that, the Suns lost five straight games) but Washington Jr. has been a bright spot in those contests.

In his last four games played, Washington has averaged 15.0 points with 4.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds and fewer than one turnover per game. His presence has been sorely needed for the Suns with usual backup point guard Cameron Payne out with a right foot strain and backup guard Landry Shamet out with Achilles soreness.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is force our agenda or our plan unto a guy for his game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after his team’s 125-108 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night, in which Washington Jr. scored a career-high 26 points. “We feel like the system is built for guys to expand the system, not the other way around.

“He’s a guy that can score the ball a lot like Cam Payne. And we needed every bit of it tonight.”

Washington Jr. is the son of former NBA player Duane Washington, who was drafted with the No. 13 pick in 1987 by the then-named Washington Bullets but only played 19 games across two seasons. His uncle is former Los Angeles Lakers five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher, who he lived with in high school when he played as a senior at Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon.

He succeeded as a three-year player at Ohio State and was named an All-Big Ten third-team selection in 2021, when he averaged 16.4 points with 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while the Buckeyes reached a ranking as high as No. 4 in the AP Top 25.

Now in the NBA, Washington Jr. had to work his way up from a two-way contract with the Pacers and their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and then secure a role with the Suns.

“I’ve been working my tail off,” Washington Jr. said after the Suns’ win over the Grizzlies. “I’ve just been believing in myself, coaches believe in me, my teammates believe in me. I sound like a broken record but it’s the truth.”

Washington Jr. also said he has focused on integrating himself within the Suns’ scheme and making his presence felt.

“Coach has been on me, day in and day out, about just the details and little things, mismatches, what you’re looking for, why you’re doing something and why we’re calling the play.” Washington Jr. said. “So I keep trying to stack my days, learn every single game with the minutes I get, and just try to put myself in the best position to stay on the floor.”

Washington Jr. will continue to be relied upon over the last three games of the Suns’ six-game road trip, which continues Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. Payne has not played since Dec. 13 and his return is uncertain, and since Suns starting point guard Chris Paul has been used at a career-low rate this season, Washington Jr. has another chance to earn more minutes if he continues to play well.

Phoenix faces Toronto at 5:30 p.m. MT at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario.

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