I have a confession to make. I’m obsessed with Leondre Washington.
Not obsessed in the way that I follow his every move on Instagram or Twitter, or read all of his profiles, or watch his videos or try to understand the origins of his “Jelly” movement.
I’m obsessed in the way that, after 29 games, I still have no idea how he fits in to what RMU hopes to accomplish this season and beyond.
I think about this often. Sometimes while I’m driving. Sometimes in the shower. Sometimes I’ll completely lose focus while watching TV because I’m so caught up in how RMU can improve an offense that at times looks dominant and other times can go 11 minutes without scoring a bucket.
In my opinion, Leondre Washington has a lot to do about that. Let’s look at the facts:
>> Washington, as a freshman, plays 23 minutes a game.
>> He’s shooting 36 percent from the floor, 30 percent from 3 and 74.7 percent from the line. Objectively, Washington has a pretty smooth shot and his free throw percentage indicates that his shooting from the field will only get better.
>> He’s averaging 8.4 points and 2.1 assists per game. His assist rate is Top 20 of all players in the NEC.
>> He was prolific enough as a high schooler to be added to the “jelly fam,” a movement that started in the New York/New Jersey area that was eventually picked up by Nike. You can read about that here.
>>Washington is listed at 6-foot-0, which seems generous, and shares the court with another undersized point guard in Jon Williams and a small-ish shooting guard in Matty McConnell.
>>Robert Morris is 5-1 in games that Washington has missed.
That last stat is the most complicated. Washington is solid; he clearly has game and has played some of his best ball against the best the NEC has to offer. The one game the team lost in his absence was against Siena, a squad RMU really should have been able to best at the time the game was played.
So maybe there is literally no correlation between Washington’s absences during the five wins in six games. The rest of this article could be completely baseless. But I tend to think a little differently.
It should be noted that I really like Washington’s game. He has the potential to be instant offense on a team that really needs it. I’m a big believer in his development — as he learns to adjust to the size, speed and athleticism of the game, he’ll learn how to better use angles to finish around the rim. I don’t think his ceiling is that of a Junior Robinson, but it wouldn’t shock me if he became one of the 15 best players in the NEC in the next few years.
The freshman has translated his quickness into steals on the defensive end, where he ranks sixth in the NEC in steal percentage. But outside of that, Washington doesn’t have the reputation as a top-flight defender. That’s OK. Given his size, becoming even a good defender is going to be difficult. What can’t happen are the amount of times he seems to just be lost on the defensive end.
Washington is very much in the mold of a present-day point guard, where he needs the ball in his hands. That’s OK too because it plays well off of Jon Williams, who is more of a pass-first guard. The biggest problem is RMU’s lack of a big man who can run high pick-and-roll. Malik Petteway probably would have been that guy, but he’s injured. The Colonials have experimented with Charles Bain at the five, an idea I really, really like in theory but like less in action. David Cole and Ronnie Gombe have only shown flashes. A big man to lay off of would probably go a long way for Washington, but this current unit doesn’t really have it.
Washington is a 31 percent 3-point shooter and is shooting 36 percent on shots around the rim, a number that tops Williams but is still low. That’s not unexpected for two undersized guards in their freshman year, but it’s paying a price on RMU’s offense.
Outside of Dachon Burke, the Colonials don’t really have anyone who can consistently get to — and finish — around the rim. Small forward Koby Thomas, another freshman, has shown an innate ability to finish at the rim, but 60 percent of shots at the tin are assisted. Again, that goes back to the fact that Burke is really the only guy who can get their, and finish, on his own. RMU’s reliance on Burke is concerning.
So now factor in all of these events. You have Washington, an undersized point guard that’s part of an undersized backcourt. His offensive game shows glimpses of promise, but it’s not there for consistent stretches. He’s not a better 3-point shooter than Williams. He doesn’t have a big man to run high pick-and-roll with and he’s not a stellar defensive player for a team that needs either elite defense of big offense to win. How does he fit into this year’s team?
How does he fit in moving forward, too? Jon Williams seems like a lock to return because his brother, Josh, transferred to the school from Akron. McConnell will be a senior and Burke a junior. Plus, a fresh recruiting class figures to have at least one other player push the entire backcourt for minutes. Next year’s rotation can get pretty crowded pretty quickly.
But the thing is, Washington obviously has talent. It’s clear. This is a kid who is going to develop into a really solid basketball player. Would he play 23 minutes a game if that wasn’t the case? He has a certain swagger and energy to him that is hard to put into words, but is promising.
This is why I’m so conflicted. I like his game, but I like Williams’ a little more at this point in time. I don’t think he brings a lot to the table defensively for a team that needs an elite defensive unit to win. I just don’t think this offense is currently designed to suit his strengths. I’m not sure it ever will.
One thing I’d be very interested to see just a glimpse of is a crazy small lineup that features Williams-Washington-McConnell-Burke-Thomas playing a 2-3 zone on the defensive end. The Colonials would be hilariously undersized but extremely athletic and full of enough rebounding guards (McConnell and Burke rebound very well for their positions and Thomas is one of the top rebounders in NEC play) that it might just work. RMU’s offense is simply not good enough to win three NEC tournament games right now, and even worse than that, they have no identity. A small-ball lineup might give the group a chance to get out and run. It’s probably not something they could do for long stretches, but that lineup features (arguably) the team’s five most talented players with space to operate.
The jelly fam has a very bright future. It very well could be at Robert Morris. Right now, I just don’t see the fit.