As announced earlier today, UK freshman PJ Washington will enter the NBA Draft for the sake of going to the combine (assuming he gets an invite, which isn’t certain), but will not hire an agent. It’s the right decision for Washington after one season in Lexington, and it will be the right decision when he decides to return for his sophomore season, as many suspect he will.
As I see it, Washington’s official statement declaring his entry into the draft is already pointing directly toward an eventual return, barring any encouraging feedback from the NBA. He emphasized his love for the program, school and the fans in Kentucky; and made a point to say he is doing it to “see where he stands” at Calipari’s recommendation. It’s what all NBA prospects should do if given the opportunity, even if they are fully committed to returning to school for another season. A 2016 rule change to the process allows NCAA players to withdraw from the draft multiple times, so why wouldn’t they attend the combine to get a feel for what to expect and where they stand in the eyes of NBA execs? It’s a no-brainer.
As for the likelihood Washington does get some encouraging feedback that may push him toward leaving for good, I don’t think his fans in Lexington should be too worried. It would likely take a first-round promise from an NBA organization to convince him to go, and the upcoming draft class includes several power forwards who are much more NBA-ready. That’s not to say he won’t get the feedback he needs to stay in the draft — his wingspan and vertical will garner attention — but the mock drafts and big boards suggest it would take a pretty significant climb for Washington to work his way up into first-round territory:
SI.com Top 100: No. 60
NBADraft.net: No. 93 overall; second-round pick in 2019 draft
ESPN Top 100: No. 47
Sporting News: Unranked among Top 60 prospects
Then there’s the talk behind the scenes that Washington and his family have been content with a two-year stint in Lexington all along. They don’t seem to be in a hurry like some families, which is the right mindset for Washington’s situation. He is best fit for small ball in the NBA, but his current game doesn’t fit his projected role in the pros. Another season in Lexington would buy him time to find a shot and some lateral quickness, among other tools, while competing at the highest level of college basketball at UK. He could be a star in college basketball next season, as opposed to bussing around the G-League, which is the most likely scenario for his immediate future if he were to leave for good.
So Washington’s decision to declare for the draft is the right one. And if he drops out of the draft to return to UK for his sophomore season, it will be the right decision too. He’ll hear all he needs to hear to better himself for the 2019 draft, when he leaves UK behind as a sophomore sensation and national champion. (Wouldn’t that be fun?)