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A Look into Kentucky Sophomore Big Man PJ Washington

Sophomore power forward PJ Washington has thrown his name in to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. How does he project into the NBA and how does he fit with the Philadelphia 76ers?

Fun Fact: PJ Washington has worn the number 25 his entire life. What will he do if he’s drafted by the 76ers?

On April 9th, PJ Washington let it known that he plans to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. Does this sound familiar? It should. At this time last year, PJ Washington tested the waters to enter the NBA. In an interview during the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, PJ Washington stated, “If I get a second-round guarantee, I’m definitely going back to school. Right now, if it’s first round, I believe I should take it; if it’s second round, I believe I should come back.”

While Washington measured at 6-foot-8-inches with shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, his 7-foot-2.5-inch wingspan (12th best) turned quite a few heads. In addition, Washington’s hand width was measured at 10.25 inches, tied for fourth largest at the combine. PJ had a 34 inch vertical leap that ranked second among power forwards the combine.

PJ’s Freshman Campaign

As a freshman at Kentucky, PJ Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Being a bit undersized for his position, being a floor spacer is a must for PJ Washington as he looks to continue his basketball career into the NBA. He shot 23.8% from 3 point range on only 21 attempts on the season and 60.6% from the free throw line on 5.6 attempts per game.

PJ Washington started 30 of 37 games for the Kentucky Wildcats during his freshman year. Despite losing to Kansas State in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, PJ Washington had some very memorable moments in some big games during the final stretch of the season. He scored in double figures in 11 of the final 12 games of his freshman season and was the standout for Kentucky during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Here is a highlight reel of PJ Washington vs Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament.  

In May 2018, the general consensus from draft analysts had PJ pegged for the second round.  Staying true to his word, he withdrew his name from the draft and returned to the University of Kentucky for his sophomore season. Increasing his versatility and shooting ability was the focus of PJ Washington during the offseason. Kentucky entered the 2018/19 season 2nd in the country in preseason rankings. Despite PJ’s strong finish to his freshman season, PJ was not named to the preseason All American Teams by CBS or ESPN.

Here is PFO’s Ultimate Highlight Reel of PJ Washington during his sophomore campaign.

Did PJ’s decision to play another year at Kentucky help his draft stock?  Absolutely. PJ Washington had a monster sophomore season and has cemented himself as a first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. All of his numbers across the board increased compared to his freshman season. Scoring increased from 15.8 to 20.7 points per 40 minutes. Rebounding increased from 8.3 to 10.4 rebounds per 40 minutes. PJ’s offensive rating increased from 110.1 to 119.5, and his defensive rating decreased from 101 to 93.8.

Most importantly though, PJ Washington’s work in the offseason really helped his shooting. PJ took 57 more three pointers than his freshman year and finished shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the arc on 2.2 attempts per game.  His shooting percentage from three was 19 percent higher than his freshman season. His true shooting percentage increased from 57 to 60 percent. If he can show real promise on his jump shot during the 2019 Draft Combine and during team workouts, PJ has a real chance to become a lottery pick.

A Primetime Player

A sprained foot, which occurred during Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee during the SEC Conference Semifinals, kept PJ Washington out of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. However, PJ returned during the Sweet Sixteen and dominated. In two games during this year’s NCAA Tournament, PJ Washington averaged 22 points, 7.5 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game. His final game at Kentucky was a standout performance, putting up 28 points against Auburn in the Elite Eight.

PJ Washington’s fantastic sophomore season earned him huge recognition throughout the NCAA. Most importantly, a spot on the NCAA Consensus All-America Third Team. He earned All-America Second Team honors via USA Today and Sports Illustrated. PJ was named All-SEC First Team. He was in the top 5 for Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Karl Malone Award, which is an award given to the nation’s top power forward, and he was a two time SEC Player of the Week.

Where can we expect PJ Washington to go in the 2019 NBA Draft?

Unfortunately for the Sixers, PJ Washington’s stock has been climbing over the past month. However, a lot can change between now and draft night held on June 20th, 2019. Here are his current projections…

ESPN: 12

NBADraft.Net: 24

Tankathon: 17

SI.com: 11

The Athletic: 14

PJ Washington’s Strengths

The first two words that come to mind regarding PJ Washington is toughness and versatility. We’re talking about a player that refuses to get bullied in the paint in college. In addition, he’s got quick feet and uses his physicality well. He’s got the length, agility, and body that should help him translate to the next level. PJ Washington’s 6’8″, 223 pound frame looks like he should be small ball 4 in the NBA. In addition, PJ has a great feel for the game.

Length. PJ’s huge 7’3″ wingspan makes him a very attractive defensive prospect with some versatility on that end. ESPN compares PJ Washington physically to Noah Vonleh, Jerami Grant, and Kawhi Leonard. PJ’s physical tools should allow him to continue to stand out during May’s NBA Draft Combine. PJ’s physical tools allow him to switch between bigs and wings on defense. This is one of the biggest positives of PJ Washington.

Versatility. In some sense, PJ Washington is a traditional big man with a back-to-the-basket game. He’s shown countless times this year that he can back his man up in the paint and get his own shot. He’s got an inside out game that highlights his strength, and his great leaping ability allows him to play above the rim. PJ also has a strong midrange game from the elbow. Over the past year, PJ has steadily developed his shooting stroke from three, and the work has paid off. 

Big time progress this season, but must continue to develop consistent shooting from the perimeter.

Developing his range. PJ Washington’s 3 point shooting is the biggest reason why his stock has been climbing this year. His ability to add a corner 3 in his game has been huge for his draft stock. We live in an NBA world where defensive versatility and three point shooting is a premium, and PJ Washington checks these boxes. I think it’s unfair to expect PJ Washington to be a consistent, 40% threat from three in the NBA. However, the progress on his shooting stroke in such short time is extremely positive.

Transition. In order to be a small ball 4 in the NBA, you must be able to run in the fast break, and PJ Washington is a very good finisher in transition. He has the ability to sell a pump fake, put the ball on the floor from the perimeter, fight through contact, and attack the rim.  Lastly, PJ has shown to be a leader on the court. It is important to note that PJ makes plays that impact the game beyond the box score.

PJ Washington’s Weaknesses

Size and handle. Since he’s only 6’8″, PJ needs to work on his ability to get by defenders. Sometimes he tries too hard to out-physical his defender, and he just ends up looking bad. This goes hand-in-hand with his post game as well when he’s trying to back down defenders in the paint. Trying to bully defenders is something that will not work for him in the NBA.

Moving the ball. In his two college seasons, PJ Washington only averaged 1.7 assists per game. Throughout his time at Kentucky, he has been known to take bad shots. PJ does not project as a go-to scorer in the NBA, and this is not a prospect you should expect to create his own shot. He’s not a playmaker but he’s shown the ability to avoid turning over the ball.

Free Throw Shooting. While he showed improvement in his sophomore season, he shot 66.3% from the line on 5.1 attempts per game. Not much else needs to said here other than this is an area that must improve.

Role. Kentucky used PJ Washington as a big and most of his time was spent in the paint, something that didn’t exactly help prepare him for the NBA. PJ will learn quickly that he won’t be able to out-muscle defenders in the NBA. PJ seems to be a quick learner, and any team that drafts him will have the chance to mold him into either a wing or small ball 4. He’ll only be 20 years old at the time of the draft, which is a positive.

In Conclusion

PJ Washington brings a very intriguing combination of length and shooting from beyond the arc. In my opinion, it all comes down his ability to show promise from the perimeter. This is a prospect that got away with muscling defenders in college. Any team that drafts PJ Washington should understand that he’s still project. However, given that he’s only 20 and the vast improvements between his first two years at Kentucky, this should grant him a very strong chance to enter the lottery on draft night.

Being a consistent shooter from the perimeter and defending 3s and 4s must become PJ Washington’s bread and butter in the NBA. PJ should really study game film of Kawhi Leonard and Robert Covington this offseason. He currently doesn’t have quick enough feet to defend elite NBA players on the wing, but his combination of length and physicality makes him an interesting prospect to show promise in this area.

PJ Washington’s Fit with the 76ers

The Sixers biggest priority in the NBA Draft is to get help in the backcourt. More specifically, guards that can defend the pick-and-roll. While PJ Washington doesn’t help in this area, the Sixers have gotten cooked this year by wings that can penetrate and get to the rim.

The Sixers drafted Zhaire Smith because of his defensive versatility, ability to run in transition, and shooting from 3. Switchability on defense for Sixers players is paramount, especially when sharing a court with Ben Simmons. Mike Scott and James Ennis currently play the role PJ Washington would provide for the current Sixers. Mike Scott is 30 years old and is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while James Ennis is 28 and has a player option. The Sixers bench is depleted and needs a massive overhaul this Summer.

Guard or wing in the draft?

If PJ Washington falls to the Sixers at 24, this could be a very solid pick. The Sixers also have ammo in the 2nd round (picks 33, 34) in this draft to be able to move up a few spots and get him. Other than perimeter shooting, PJ Washington must show he has the foot speed to be able to defend on the perimeter. I could easily see a scenario where Washington’s physical measurements, leadership, and defensive versatility could “wow” Sixers brass during private workouts.

Similar to Zhaire, this would be a pick that comes with expectations that it will take him some time to catch up to the speed of the NBA. PJ has a lot to work on in terms of becoming a consistent shooter from three and offensive and defensive IQ, but the hard work he showed last offseason certainly helps. While Jonah played some minutes at power forward, I think Bolden’s best position moving forward is as a stretch 5. How do you feel about PJ Washington on the Sixers? Let us know by leaving a comment below or reaching out on Twitter!

mrcrockpot

"Some would have us go out and buy apples. But we want to build the whole orchard, and you don't get to the moon by climbing a tree."
-Sam Hinkie

Jonah Bolden commented on my first game recap for SFO.

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