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Kentucky Basketball: The Pros and Cons for PJ Washington going to the NBA Draft

Making the case for and against PJ Washington leaving for the NBA.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Georgia Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Among the biggest questions still yet to be answered for Kentucky this offseason is whether or not PJ Washington will stay in the draft or return for his sophomore season.

Obviously, Kentucky fans would enjoy another season of the skilled forward, but numerous other factors are in play that suggest Washington may head to the NBA.

Making the leap to the NBA is a personal decision. Only PJ Washington will be able to say which decision is best for him and his family. However, we have enough to look at to determine just how ready he is to be in the NBA.

The pros for Washington heading to the league revolve around his physical gifts and excellent fundamentals. He came to Kentucky as a skilled combo forward reminiscent of Trey Lyles and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Throughout his freshman season, he showcased an exquisite blend of great athleticism with fluid footwork and lateral movement that allowed him to be extremely effective around the rim.

In addition, Washington’s back to the basket game is extremely fundamental in both the way that he positions himself for post passes and how his post hook shot is fluid. He also likes to turn his body after the catch and try to slash past defenders on face-up situational.

What works for him is his ability to cut through a defender’s outside hip, which he can do effectively going left or right. Washington utilizes a quick and powerful hop step to get close to the rim.

His ability to gather control after landing to the ground allows him to launch above the rim, which he does most effectively off two feet. He’s an efficient finisher with his left hand as well and knows how to finish through contact.

Washington also has phenomenal hands when it comes to grabbing the ball. More than anything, his hands are strong and powerful, which makes him an elite rebounder, as well as a consistent, reliable pass target for ball handlers, especially off cuts and screen & roll actions that have to be executed in a split-second manner in the NBA.

His defensive instincts are also at a high level, which helped Kentucky become an elite defense at times in 2017-18. Washington has a great mind for switching and playing help defense when sets start to collapse. He has great timing when it comes to reading the ball and making plays on it. While his block numbers were low in college, he can get up for some major rejections as well.

Lost in the physical gifts are PJ’s ball-handling ability and his jumper. Washington is an effective dribbler after he grabs a defensive rebound and often will take it up the court. While perhaps a minor detail now, skills like that tend to manifest into something great after extensive time in the NBA, as it has for players like DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle.

While only shooting 5-of-21 from beyond the arc, the mere ability to make open perimeter shots gives Washington an advantage in the NBA. His mid-range jumper is effective as well, though certain mechanics do need to be improved upon.

While he is certainly a unique player with his physique and build, there are some players in the NBA who show similar traits and qualities to Washington. The most similar is likely James Johnson of the Miami Heat.

Johnson contains the same combination of high-flying athleticism, fluid movement, and high skill level with very similar body frames as well. He plays a similar way for Erik Spoelstra in Miami that PJ played at Kentucky when it comes to occasionally dribbling the ball up court and hitting occasional jumpers while primarily bodying up down low.

Being able to position yourself correctly for ball handlers to feed you is one of the ways Johnson has made a name for himself, and it’ll be something that Washington will have to do continually to make it in the NBA.

The main con against PJ Washington going to the NBA is that he stands at just 6’7”, which is average size for a stereotypical NBA small forward even with teams playing smaller lineups. Washington’s skill level is good but they don’t reflect success when playing on the wing.

The elite small-ball fours in the NBA such as Draymond Green and Paul Millsap are highly skilled players, but they are most times products of an elite coach or coaching system. In essence, where Washington may get drafted is going to matter more than his actual qualities, because so much is going to be dependent on how good the coaching is and how good the team’s staff as a whole is.

Another thing that holds Washington back right now is a lack of assertiveness. Not that he isn’t an aggressive player, but too many times last season he completely disappeared from the flow of the offense. This was due either to his defensive matchup or just from differing to others in situations when he should attack.

Washington is an unselfish player in every essence. However, he is not yet at a level which he is continually impacting plays. The NBA is the most proficient basketball league in the world and players can’t afford to not make an impact on every play they’re involved in.

There’s also the simple fact that Washington could get exponentially better just by staying in school for another year. His game has far from peaked, and at the top of his game, he could be a certified first-round pick or even a lottery pick, depending on how big of a jump he makes.