2019-20 Rookie Review: P.J. Washington Is More Skilled Than You Think

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

Taken at the 12th spot in the his draft, P.J. Washington went right around where I had him pegged on my personal Big Board (16th.) Prior to the draft, Washington benefitted from receiving solid results on his physical measurables. He appeared bulky enough to hang with stronger players and claimed a wingspan just over 7-foot-2 inches.

Yet, his athletic testing measurables dropped drastically. Despite being a talented passer with a developing 3-point shot, some questioned how Washington could reach his potential at the next level? Well, Washington put many of those questions to bed. What did he do so well and where does he need to improve?

Perimeter Shooting, Specifically From The Corner

While at Kentucky, many questioned if Washington’s outside shooting would translate to the NBA. His form had been fine tuned but it was nothing near perfect. Regardless, PJ was able to hit 49 percent of his corner triples, good enough for the 97th percentile. This corner shot would become incredibly important for Washington as he hit only 33 percent of his above the break bombs.

Inverting the knees while bending them before the shot has helped. His lower body mechanics do not need much tweaking at all. His upper half mechanics are decent enough, too. Although he sacrifices a quicker release, dipping the ball before the shot seems to be an effective tool for PJ.

Hitting such a high percentage of corner 3-pointers has opened up other parts of his game. Washington’s shot chart shows his affinity for taking them. Throughout the course of the season defenders wisened up to this tendency. When they did, Washington often took advantage by passing to open men or attacking closeouts.

Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass
Playmaking For Others

Many things peak in college. Consider my entire entity as a being, for instance. Washington showed flashes of his passing ability at Kentucky but it truly reached another level in the NBA. In fact, one could argue that professional league spacing has unlocked this part of his game.

PJ’s assist percentage and assist to usage ratio are both above average and impressive for a rookie forward (77th and 66th, respectively.) How did he accomplish this? Washington recognizes closeouts and drives past defenders to draw in the help. When he does this he is more than capable of spotting the open man.

What’s more, he uses lookaways to deceive the defense before shoveling out slick passes. His vision is still underrated. Watching him operate from the post is a treat. Washington has eyes in the back of his head and his timing is excellent. It is in this way that he creates easy offense for his teammates, making him someone they must love playing with. Check out all of these examples below.

Defensive Versatility

It was fair to question if Washington would have the foot speed to guard wings and enough height to guard fives. Surprisingly, PJ demonstrated he could do so. Advanced metrics like defensive real plus/minus were kind to him. Another, more detailed metric liked him as well.

Washington spent plenty of time guarding players across four different positions. My buddies at BBall-Index.com are responsible for the graphic below. Take a glance at the time PJ spent defending 2-5.

Now, being a multipositional defender does not necessarily equate to being a good defender. The plus/minus score helps us clarify but the tape does an even better job. Washington does not possess remarkable agility but the pace of the game was not overwhelming for him; something that traditionally plagues rookies. Additionally, he displayed solid fundamentals and a knack for being in the right spot.

I can hear my old AAU coach screaming “fake and retreat!” during this next play. After the switch, PJ darts at the ballhandler then backs away. He’s baiting him to make a pass to the rolling Julius Randle and his retreat towards him prepares PJ for a possible steal. Next, he sticks with the play, keeping his hands high and causes a deflection. This is high IQ stuff.

Washington averaged just under 1.0 blocks per game this season, a number that could actually increase with more minutes. Although he will likely not see too much time as a small ball five, rewatching clips of his rim protection enforces the notion that PJ is a smart defensive player who can hang just well enough on perimeter switches before using his wits to alter shots.

His stance during this switch is great. Plus, PJ knows to shade Kendrick Nunn into the help defender. When Nunn evades the helpers, Washington uses that time to get himself into perfect position to block Nunn. Very smart. In the example below, Washington shows how quickly he adapted to the pace of the pro game. He immediately sees this corner swing happening and sells out for a corner rejection. The speed of recognition here is encouraging.

Between the floor spacing, passing and defensive awareness and hustle, Washington should rightfully earn a place on the All-Rookie Team. So, what does he have to work on this offseason?

Offseason To-Do List

PJ took 42 percent of his shots at the rim but his conversion rate is in the 20th percentile. Yuck. He struggles against elite NBA size and length. What’s more, his free throw rate is in the 24th percentile. When combining those numbers with a review of the film, it becomes evident that Washington has not yet grown comfortable handling contact in the NBA.

Sometimes, he initiates the contact but has trouble finishing, throwing up awkward attempts with his off hand.

Other times, he avoids contacts altogether which results in shot attempts he may not be athletic enough to finish.

At Kentucky, PJ showed soft scoring touch around the rim. Yet, wingspans only become longer in the NBA. He must find a way to overcome these tougher contests. In college, he found success working from the post. We know he is a passing threat from there, so dedicating more time to that dying art could be worth it.

Additionally, Washington could work on strengthening his core. He was not overly explosive as a Wildcat but has some moments. Trying to max out his athletic profile would be a huge boost. Charlotte fans should be happy, however. They have an intelligent swiss army knife on their team for the foreseeable future.

BONUS: What Are The Experts Saying About Washington?

We reached out to an up and coming sports writer who specializes in covering the Hornets. He was helpful enough to provide us with his opinion of Washington’s rookie season. Check out what he has to say below!

Chase Whitney – The 450 Times & SB Nation:

“PJ Washington is a Swiss Army knife, and even at a young age, the improvements that he has to make are pretty minute. If he stays on his current path, he’ll be just fine. His long-range shooting, half-court passing, and perimeter defensive awareness have already improved a lot since he got to Charlotte, and he’s always been a savvy paint scorer and defender.”

“The only ‘weak spots’ in his game right now (I use quotes because they’re not very weak) are free-throw shooting, mid-range pull-up shooting, and shot-blocking. His 64.7 free-throw percentage is due to climb based on how good of a shooter he is, and with more time learning the positioning and timing of NBA defense, he’ll grow as a shot-blocker. If PJ ever develops a break-you-down-off-the-dribble game from the second level, he will be an extremely good player. Watching him grow and accept more responsibility on both ends of the floor in his second season is going to be very exciting.”

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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