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PJ Washington is this year’s Wenyen Gabriel for John Calipari’s rotation

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After showing early promise, Wenyen Gabriel fell seemingly out of the rotation last year. P.J. Washington probably won’t, but he has to find some consistency.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky vs Monmouth-NJ
P.J. Washington hasn’t had the most consistent start, but he can still be an x-factor for Calipari’s lineup.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Through nine games this season, freshman forward P.J. Washington has a case of Wenyen Gabriel Syndrome.

What is that, you ask? It’s simple: it’s when a promising stretch-four for John Calipari shows real flashes of his potential, but isn’t doing it consistently.

Gabriel showed flashes all throughout the first portion of the season a year ago, including three straight games of double-figure scoring in late November before his confidence disappeared until the middle of January when he pulled down 16 rebounds against Auburn and followed that up with 13 points in a perfect 5-for-5 shooting night against Mississippi State.

P.J. Washington against Vermont, East Tennesee State, Illinois-Chicago and Monmouth did this: 17 points/10 rebounds, 12 points/10 rebounds, 17 points (five rebounds and four assists) and 20 points, six rebounds and four blocks. 66 points and 31 rebounds in four games is some solid production.

Here’s what he’s done in the other five games where Kentucky has gone 4-1: 21 points on 5-of-15 shooting with 21 rebounds and four blocks (that all came in the Kansas loss on Nov. 14).

This is the part of the breakdown where I step and spell out R-E-L-A-X like I’m Aaron Rodgers or something. The season is nine games old and Kentucky is a couple possessions away from being 9-0. It may not be the prettiest, but Kentucky will be fine and Washington can be a reason why as the year moves along.

Washington ... can shoot it? It sure looks like it.

Here’s the hilarious thing about this shot: did you know that’s just Washington’s second 3-point attempt this season? Not bad form, right?

One of the major knocks on Kentucky other than them being much younger than usual this season is their 3-point shooting. They’re tied with seven other teams at 34.7 percent shooting from deep, which is good for 192nd in the nation. That’s not spectacular.

What’s not bad is Washington’s shooting stroke. He finds the open space on the floor, sets his feet and shoots a fluid shot from the left wing like he does it all the time. Calipari’s big men usually never shoot triples, but if they can show a consistency in making them, why not let them?

Kentucky will pound the paint against anyone. That’s their bread and butter in Cal’s dribble-drive system. But, unlocking a wrinkle like a perimeter-shooting P.J. Washington could help matters this season, just like Gabriel’s shooting did at times last season.

Washington is a (good version of a) bully

Washington’s best performance of the season came in the Vermont win and this possession right here is one of my favorites from him and Richards this season.

Kentucky will play against better talent and more size, but when you have the size advantage, use it and dominate ... and that’s what the ‘Cats did here.

This high-low action with Richards and Washington (and vice versa) could be used all season. Washington’s a bit shorter than Richards, but bullies his way in the lane and uses his body about as well as anyone on the roster. He can get some easy points this way against anyone on the schedule.

Always remember: “Freshmen will be freshmen.”

This defensive possession for the ‘Cats against ETSU made me laugh for a few reasons.

It’s one of their better ones this season as a unit ... until P.J. Washington completely forgets about his man and gives him a wide-open look from deep at the top of the key (that did fortunately rim out for Washington and the ‘Cats).

Did you catch why Washington’s man got so open for the shot? Let’s slow things down a bit with a picture-by-picture look at the possession.

Sure, it’s just one possession for the ‘Cats (and it resulted in a miss anyway), but these little types of things could be costly against teams like Virginia Tech, Louisville and UCLA later in the year.

The competition will get stiffer and Washington and the ‘Cats can’t afford these kinds of lapses, especially on the defensive end. That’s how you end up in Calipari’s dog house with your minute count trimmed. (Ask Wenyen Gabriel about that.)

Still, freshmen make mistakes. It happens. John Wall wasn’t perfect. Don’t expect Washington to be either.

Why Washington’s ceiling is higher than one would think

I may be in a minority of people that think Washington’s a bigger player for Kentucky this season than many others, but he’s a unique piece (like Jarred Vanderbilt would be if he was healthy). He feels like such a tweener on the floor.

Washington isn’t a freakish athlete. He’s not quick, but he’s sturdy with his size and has shown that when he’s playing with confidence, he’s a strong asset to have. Calipari has been known to load up his frontcourt rotations over the year and this year’s no different. With Washington, SKJ, Gabriel, Nick Richards and Tai Wynyard all up front, someone needs to be a key component next to Richards, who’s clearly the best option at center. Personally, Washington could be that guy.

(Hot take that you can hold me to: Kentucky’s clear-cut best unit [if Vanderbilt doesn’t return] will be a five-man unit of Green-Diallo-Knox-Washington-Richards by season’s end.)