#12 on the PB Big Board
F – Kentucky
Sophomore, 6’8, 228 pounds
What he does well:
Narrowing down the game of basketball to simply “scoring” may feel inadequate, but Washington really did show the ability to fill it up in his time at Kentucky, in a variety of ways.
Although he stands just 6-foot-6 without shoes on, Washington was a legitimate back-to-the-basket scorer in college. He had a bevvy of post moves that led to hooks and finishes over both shoulders.
Should his height deter him from scoring that way in the NBA, Washington this year showed a more diversified game. He developed a face-up game that while it was simple, it was effective and precise. From the elbow or closer to the baseline, Washington was able to get to a scoring chance with a jab or pump fake and one dribble.
Most notably, this season he really developed as a shooter. His volume of outside shots increased and his shooting percentages sky-rocketed.
Washington went from an undersized post player to a more versatile weapon with a legitimate 3-pointer added to his game. That will need to continue at the next level, as Washington will be asked to hit catch-and-shoot threes and also attack mismatches on the interior.
After seeing him at Kentucky, there’s no reason not to believe PJ Washington can’t be a high-level defender in the NBA, doing much more than is typically asked of a player his size.
Washington is fully able to play larger than his listed height, giving him the chops to play both forward positions and occasional spot minutes at center. And while I wouldn’t want him chasing guards around a lot, Washington seems able to handle a switch if needed.
His 7-foot-2 wingspan makes him a terror in passing lanes and in the faces of shooters. Washington isn’t a through-the-roof type rim protector but finds himself in the right position to alter a shot very frequently. Most importantly, Washington works hard on defense, which is half the battle, if not more.
Where he struggles:
Finding his role
Each piece of the positive side of PJ Washington has a devil on my other shoulder whispering why those are secretly bad qualities to have in today’s NBA.
His height is a real concern for me, causing him to drop several spots on my board. At 6-foot-8 (in shoes) he is a very different player than he’d be at just 2 inches taller. Washington profiles as a power forward. In 2019, teams can get a little crazy with positional fits and trying players at different spots, but I worry about doing so with a player who fits the classic definition of one of the five positions. Washington’s back-to-the-basket game and his face up scoring from the mid or high post feels like a relic for a player his size.
That element of his game will only be relevant if he can punish any smaller player that tries to guard him, while also holding his own defensively against that same opponent. If Washington isn’t quick enough to be switchy, he feels more like an unfortunate tweener than a flexible player.
Even a strength like his rebounding will feel less likely to be a factor at the next level if he’s pulled away from the basket and asked to play more on the perimeter.
How his game translates to the NBA:
This is essentially the crux of the debate around Washington. If he can be a combo forward, meaning he guards 3s and 4s successfully, pops as often as he rolls off of screens, and makes threes at an impressive clip, I think he has real value. If he can do each of those well, his inside game and his rebounding are special bonuses that will allow him to bully small forwards and his shooting and footwork will help him drive by bigger power forwards.
If the team that drafts Washington sees him more fitting into either forward position directly, I think he’ll struggle. Against the wrong match-ups, Washington will either be too slow or too small and get punished on the defensive end.
On the bright side, Washington is a high-character, high-motor player. If he isn’t going to work out, it’s not going to be from lack of trying.
It’s hard to fully articulate exactly what I’m trying to say here. I don’t think it’s crazy to think in seven years that Washington is a fringe All-Star who uses his athleticism to do everything in the frontcourt. I do, however, think that is different from what we’ve seen from him in college, would require some level of change on his part, and would only happen with the right coaching staff and scheme.
- James Johnson
- Otto Porter
- Mike Scott
- Harrison Barnes
Next up: #13 Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.