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Kentucky Basketball: What to expect from PJ Washington in Year 2

The big man is poised for a big year.

Kansas State v Kentucky Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

PJ Washington’s development in his freshman year at Kentucky was one of the most overlooked story lines of the season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence took virtually every headline, but while everyone was looking in the back court Washington was coming into his own in the paint.

His numbers were not outstanding for the season. Washington averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, shooting 52% from the floor but just 61% from the free throw line and 24% from deep.

But his averaged jumped up to 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per in the last 10 games. That is not too shabby considering her was the third option in the offense behind Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox.

As his production grew, so did his confidence which fed his desire to improve. He became the emotional leader on the floor and the spark to get the team going when they were in a slump.

There is a lot to be excited about for Washington this season. During the NCAA Tournament, it seemed like he finally figured out he could own the boards. That was playing alongside Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones, who did not live up to their potential last season.

Can you imagine how many rebounds Washington will pull down with Reid Travis beside him, eliminating the opposition’s ability to use multiple players to block out each?

Another area having Travis will hopefully help is getting more blocks. With Washington playing a lot of small-ball 5 late last season, he didn’t get as many chances for help-side blocks that he was getting earlier in the year. He averaged 0.8 blocks per game but only had one in his last seven games.

With Travis able to give UK a presence at center, that could allow for Washington to come in for more blindside blocks since he won’t be right under the basket as much on defense.

Washington also has to cut down on the turnovers, as he averaged 1.9 for the season, including 2 per game in the NCAA Tournament. He showed signs of being a good ball handler and should improve greatly here with a year under his belt.

The biggest knock on Washington last year was his shooting, particularly from the free throw line as he went 8-20 in Kentucky’s season-ending loss to Kansas State.

Of course, that was one area that NBA scouts wanted to see improvement in from Washington at the combine. He did not disappoint.

Many believed he improved his draft stock at the combine, which included an improved jumper, and could be a first-round selection.

However, PJ decided to return for a sophomore season with two goals in mind: 1. Winning a national title. 2. Playing himself into being a potential lottery selection.

So what is more dangerous than a confident PJ Washington that can consistently hit jump shots (and free throws...hopefully)? A motivated PJ Washington.

Through the NBA Draft Combine process, he was able to received specific feedback about how to prepare for the NBA. With those specific goals in mind, we will see a more hard-working, consistent, aggressive bully in the paint wearing No. 25 this season.

Who is excited to see that?