I have such a hard time figuring out what’s up with PJ Washington. I mean, we’re talking about a former five-star, top-20 recruit who has shown the ability to dominate college basketball. And yet he’s so inconsistent and, for lack of a better word, invisible at times.
For the longest time I wondered what was wrong. I wondered if there was a player who he was comparable to. I thought at some point he’ll turn that motor on and never shut it off. I assumed he’d become a very good college basketball player, and a serviceable NBA player.
I also went into this season thinking PJ would be more consistent and provide invaluable veteran leadership. But in reality, all we’ve seen is him show flashes of greatness coupled with an ineptitude to consistently put up consistent production.
And then it hit me. Is PJ Washington Alex Poythress 2.0?
Hear me out. Poythress was a former five-star recruit who looked like he would absolutely dominate college basketball. He came in with a big body and great athleticism. At 6-7 and 215 pounds, Poythress looked to be the next in a long line of one-and-dones under John Calipari.
He started out the season by breaking out on the national stage. He absolutely dominated against Duke by putting up 20 points and eight rebounds while shooting 8-10 from the field. It was just the start of what looked like it would be a great career.
The imposing small forward scored at least 20 points in four of his first five college games.
But then he slowed down. Slowly but surely Poythress came back down to earth. Poythress only scored 20 points four times over the rest of his four-year career at Kentucky.
He scored in double digits in 16 games his freshman season. In his sophomore season, he only scored in double digits seven times. He only played in eight games his junior year due to an ACL tear, but he did finally get a little better his senior year.
Of course, he had good games here and there, but nothing was consistent. So, what happened? What was going on? Did he have motor issues? Did he only show up when he wanted to?
These questions surrounded Kentucky basketball, just like they are today with PJ Washington. Freakish ability was never the issue with Poythress. Consistent effort was.
And it got so bad that at one point during the 2012-13 season, Coach Cal made players wear heart monitors during practice to gauge their effort levels. It seemed ludicrous, but that was the point of frustration that arose revolving around Alex Poythress’ inconsistency.
The thing is that UK was an Alex Poythress away from possibly winning a national championship in 2015. One of the best teams in college basketball history fell in the Final Four to Wisconsin because the Cats had no one to guard Sam Dekker.
It shows just how important he was to the program. And despite his inconsistencies, he became beloved at Kentucky.
Now, let’s take a look at PJ. He’s another freakish athlete at 6-7 and 236 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan.
Washington scored in double figures in 23 of 37 games his freshman season, including 11 of his last 12. He was extremely inconsistent at the beginning of the year. As soon as he seemed to establish himself, he’d put up a string of duds.
It perplexed fans, but he finally found his stride at the end of the season. Despite missing 12 (!) free throws in UK’s Sweet Sixteen exit last season, he still looked absolutely unstoppable. That’s why when the NBA Combine finally rolled around, rumors started swirling that he might keep his name in the NBA Draft.
Ultimately, he pulled his name out and returned for his sophomore season. And this led to extremely high expectations by fans and the coaching staff. It’s not often an NBA talent returns to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
But it hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Although PJ has increased his stats in virtually every category, something still seems off. He seems to just disappear at times.
We’ve seen dominant displays against Vermont (25 points, seven rebounds), VMI (19 points, 18 rebounds), and Winthrop (19 points, 11 rebounds). But all three of these games were against sub-par competition, and they all three came in a row.
Fast forward to the Seton Hall game. PJ looked like a First-Team All-American as he put up 29 points and 13 rebounds. Finally, the star we had all been waiting for had come back to life.
But again, we’ve all been left disappointed as he’s only scored in double figures in three of the six games since then. And everyone is wondering why.
Does Calipari need to get him more involved? Is he just failing to assert himself? Is it a lack of effort, or does he just play when he wants to?
It’s the same plethora of questions we were faced with when Alex Poythress was around. The only difference is PJ seems destined to leave after this season, regardless of how he performs, and Poythress stayed all four years.
However, I think I may have finally figured out what the answer is to all these questions.
Maybe, PJ Washington (and Alex Poythress) is just a really good role player, not an inconsistent star.
It might have anything to do with effort at all. It might just be that we all expected more than what he’s meant to do. Teams need role players, so this isn’t a knock on Washington. It just seems like it’s time to temper our expectation for our star power forward.
What do you think? Is PJ Washington just failing to put forth the requisite effort? Or is he maybe just a really good role player?