In typical fashion, since the season’s end five Kentucky basketball players have declared for the 2019 NBA Draft. Two of which in freshman EJ Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards are leaving the door open to return to Kentucky if the desired feedback is not received during their time testing the draft waters.
As for sophomore PJ Washington and freshmen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro, they have confirmed they will not return to Kentucky, so we turn our attention to their journey & path to the draft on June 20th.
Today’s focus is on PJ Washington – the sophomore forward, who after a solid freshman campaign in 2017-18, had a chance to be drafted in the second round. Instead, he made the decision to return to Kentucky and bet on himself & his ability to capitalize on lottery pick potential in 2019.
PJ achieved what he set out for in his return. At the same time it provided Coach Calipari with exhibit A for players in upcoming years that are facing similar situations and would value hard evidence of what returning for an extra year with the right mindset can provide.
As a 2019 prospect, PJ Washington’s is currently projected highest at No. 11 overall (via Sports Illustrated) as well as No. 15 overall (via ESPN). With the draft combine approaching, lets take a look at the profile PJ Washington will display and work on improving in the upcoming months.
Height/Weight: 6’8 / 235lbs
Age/Position: 20 / Power Forward
Athletically, PJ has the length and natural strength to withstand NBA level physicality. The progress on his footwork and agility is key to his overall improvement and directly attributable to his ability to get his preferred shot from various spots on the floor. His length & athleticism also allows him to rebound and make plays above the rim, and in his second year he displayed an improved court vision and passing ability out of the post.
The most notable improvement is his ability to stretch out and score from all three levels. He’s shown that he can step out and shoot consistently at the elbow and three point range as his three point percentage increased from 23% to 42% from his freshman to sophomore season. The percentages speak for themselves but from a technique perspective, his shot mechanics are excellent with a high release point that is a key attribute that NBA Scouts are looking for.
Areas of Improvement
PJ has given us glimpses of what his role could be on an NBA lineup, but his role is far from defined. Finding the right fit will be the biggest question surrounding PJ Washington in the draft and the early part of his career. He lacks the prototypical size for power forwards in the NBA, and although he is a good athlete, he lacks elite athleticism that can make up for the shortcomings of size at his position.
Offensively, He has significant work to do in further refining his moves in the post. During two seasons at Kentucky, he was able to succeed with a one dimensional post strategy in his signature jump-hook. To sustain success in the NBA he will need to further develop his inside game, and more importantly build on his consistency from mid-to-three point range.
Lastly, his motor. Don’t read to much into this being in the “weakness” section, but see it more so as an area that has already significantly improved and is paramount to his NBA success. Unlike height, this something that each player can control on a daily basis, and if PJ can continue to build on the motor he showed the last three quarters of this season, it could force a coach to keep him on the floor because of the spark he provides to a team.
There is still uncertainty and events that must transpire before we know the most accurate draft projection for PJ. The future will be clearer after the lottery order is set and the combine is completed. In the meantime, I can give you three possible destinations. There’s some variety as three separate mock drafts have him going to the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, or the most intriguing: San Antonio Spurs.
Of course we’d love to see PJ drafted as high as possible, but a pick by the Spurs would require a fall just outside of the lottery. Putting that aside, I could see this being a great fit for PJ to start his career. San Antonio has drafted guards each of the last three years and so 2019 would likely be the year they draft with intent of filling a hole in the front court left by Pau Gasol, who is likely to retire soon. This would allow PJ to learn under an all-star in LaMarcus Aldridge without the constant pressure to perform that a rookie drafted as the future franchise player would face.
PJ would have the opportunity to develop under a legendary head coach and organization, and of course while enjoying that first NBA contract free of state income taxes. Hopefully he achieves his goal of being a lottery pick, but if that doesn’t happen, a spot on the Spurs would be a favorable consolation.