CHARLOTTE — Scoring in preseason is a fickle thing, because you can’t always tell who’s taking it seriously and who’s merely getting their shots up. However, with Hornets rookie P.J. Washington, what you’re seeing is what you’re probably going to get.
In the third quarter of the Hornets’ final preseason game against the Pistons, Detroit center Andre Drummond switched onto Washington. With the big man stepping back in case he opted to put his head down and get to the rim, Washington calmly pulled up from deep and buried a three.
“There are a lot of good bigs in this league, you gotta play them all different,” Washington said after the game. “I was just trying to use my advantage, we saw that he was sagging off the pick and roll and I decided to make him pay for sagging.”
Even in preseason, this sort of sequence sticks out in a place like Charlotte, where the team has struggled with player development over the years. What makes Washington rather unique is that he could be the franchise’s rare plug and play gem.
Washington had his fingerprints all over games during the preseason. Of all the Hornets who are expected to get minutes this year, Washington has shot the best from behind the arc, a robust 50 percent from deep on 3.2 attempts per game. His effective field goal percentage is also the best of all the projected rotation players, too. Considering his eFG percentage was the highest among Kentucky’s major contributors last year, it’s not a stretch to believe this could be sustainable.
His performance this preseason hits different because Washington showed that he has what it takes to be the first rookie in some time to be a factor once the regular season rolls around. Sure, Malik Monk scored more during his first preseason campaign, but he needed eight more shots a game to do it. Dwayne Bacon and Miles Bridges never hit the highs, nor filled the gaps that Washington has this early.
It’s a cliche, but there’s a decent portion of what Washington does that doesn’t really show up in a box score. There are times where he’s trusted to push the break after a long rebound, and there are times where he boxes out his man and clears room for a guard to snag a rebound. These sorts of little things emphasize just how complete a package he is, and portend an ability to play early as the rest of his game develops. Little things are often missing on teams with poor records, and as losses pile up, it’s important to have guys who can operate as lighthouses through the fog.
Projecting what a team in the midst of a rebuild will do is hard, but Washington deserves to start, and he’ll get his chance right away, as he’s in the lineup for Charlotte’s first game of the year on Wednesday night. With the Hornets looking to the future, there’s a youth movement underway, and no youngster has proven they belong in the starting lineup more than Washington. He offers the chance for Bridges to grow into his role as the small forward of the future and allows the Hornets the ability to defend the pick and roll with Cody Zeller at the 5.
Couple more PJ Washington numbers:
5-9 3PA from above the break
3-7 3PA from the corners
17 of his 22 field goals: dunks or 3-pointers
Hornets with PJ at the 5, 30 minutes (+24): 1.21 points per possession, +38 net rating, 12-24 3PA, 47% 3-point attempt rate (24 of 51 FGA) pic.twitter.com/S8KB4SGKUc
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) October 17, 2019
Future lineups that feature Washington at the 5 and Bridges at the 4 would highlight the ability to switch that modern NBA teams are looking for on defense. Seeing Washington as a P.J. Tucker-type — someone who ends up being a small ball 5 — in the long-term provides a bit of clarity for a team looking for some sort of identity, something Charlotte is trying to do as it reshuffles the deck. And having a confident youngster like Washington makes figuring out that identity a whole lot easier.
“The biggest thing is making shots,” Washington said. “Just having confidence in your abilities, and if you don’t have that, it’s definitely tough to play in this league.”
Washington believes he’ll be able to find his groove and stay confident as long as he gets buckets. If the preseason is any indication, his confidence about playing and staying afloat in this league should only be boosted.