It’s rare that Kentucky head coach John Calipari minces words about his players. He’s not the kind of coach that’s going to beat around the bush about his players’ performances either.
That’s why Calipari calling PJ Washington “a grown man” after his four-game performance in the Bahamas perfectly summed up the sophomore quartet of games.
“He’s lost about 20 pounds and could lose another four or five,” Calipari said, via Darrell Bird of 247 Sports on Washington.
“He defends. He’s bouncy. He blocked a shot here and I don’t think he had a blocked shot last year. We gotta go show that stuff, you gotta show your quickness and athleticism. He has it, but he’s never used it.”
Whatever workout plan Washington is on and whatever Calipari and his coaching staff focused on with him this offseason has worked in a big way already.
Washington’s four-game averages in the Bahamas came out to 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on 51.4 percent shooting (19-of-37), and he made 17 of his 27 free throw attempts. 63 percent from the line (in a smaller sample size) is still almost a three percent difference than the 60.6 percent he shot all last season. (He even made three of his seven attempts from 3-point range!)
It’s August. The ‘Cats didn’t necessarily play against the best of the best in terms of competition in the Bahamas. But, they might have certainly scared some teams across the country with their competitiveness and their sheer talent across the board on this team. Washington was a key entity in doing just that.
He’s already appearing to be the emotional leader of this pack of ‘Cats and even as just a sophomore, it’s a role he could fill without a problem with his intensity and experience from last season.
I wanted to take a glance at some of Washington’s play sequences from the four games in the Caribbean and I came away with one major notable thing: Washington is going to be a completely different player than the one you saw last season.
PJ Washington handling the ball more is going to be fun
In 37 games last season, Washington had 57 total assists. He had eight in four games in the Bahamas (with seven total turnovers), but he looked much more comfortable with the ball in his hands more.
It didn’t take long for Washington to appear different to me personally. Not even two minutes into the first game, Washington uses a two-handed ball fake, puts the ball on the deck and dishes out a nice little no-look dime to Nick Richards for an easy baseline jumper.
One of my favorite little things in an offense is when someone passes up a good open shot for an even better shot attempt. The small things matter in the grand scheme of things.
Washington did just that in this transition possession where he passed up a 16-18-footer jumper for an easier lay-in for the trailing Reid Travis. Ball movement is key to any team’s success and if the bigs are getting involved with in for this Kentucky team, it makes them all the more dangerous in the long run.
I loved this play from Washington and the already-beloved Tyler Herro. Usually, when a big man catches the ball out this far on the perimeter in the Kentucky offense, he’s likely going to deliver a handoff to the guard/wing as somewhat of a screen or just move the ball in another way to him.
In this play, Washington shows just a pinch of patience when Herro flashes his right hand for a pass and then quickly cuts towards the lane. He delivers a nice, easy pass to Herro, who strolls right down the lane for the easy bucket. Simple (and intelligent) stuff from those two.
“Point PJ” is going to be a thing at times throughout the year, too. You’re going to see him bringing the ball up the floor more and more in transition opportunities and with the talent the ‘Cats have offensively, this is another nice little wrinkle for them to have.
The finish from Keldon Johnson was fantastic and although it was another easy find for Washington to make, it’s good to see Washington’s decision-making be so quick and decisive. Calipari’s teams are at their best when they’re playing so much faster than their opponents, whether in the half-court or in transition.
See the easy pass. Make the easy pass. This was a bit of a broken sequence, but Washington recognized the numbers he had and made the simple dish for a score. Kentucky has plenty of ball-handlers. It’s gotta be nice for Calipari that one of them is an experienced big men in his frontcourt.
I added this because you’re going to see this a lot this season. Tyler Herro doesn’t need a ton of space, but when he does, it’s automatic. He’s going to be valuable to this team just like Washington and their performances in the Bahamas were both impressive.
Offensively, prepare for the mean mugs
Washington had a few chances to show a couple different things in his offensive game during the four games, but a lot of what you saw is typical PJ: baseline cuts and trying to end anyone’s life if they get in his way.
Case and point right here.
(He did show a little touch with a left-handed floater and it got me to say out loud, “He really is a different beast already this year.”)
Another positive development from Washington was his 3-of-7 shooting from deep (after going 5-for-21 last season) with a good-looking stroke.
(I liked this make because he had to make a tougher catch, which puts more of an emphasis on him getting his proper shot mechanics down on the shot.)
There’s been a few exceptions to the “bigs aren’t allowed to shoot 3-pointers” rule that Calipari puts into his offensive approach each season. Just ask Wenyen Gabriel after his shooting exhibition against Alabama in the SEC Tournament.
But, if Washington can step out on occasion and give Kentucky any kind of a resemblance of a threat out there, why not add another bullet point that teams are going to have to worry about this season?