News officially broke on Tuesday that PJ Washington has been wearing a “precautionary” walking boot since Sunday.
Then on Thursday, John Calipari revealed Washington shed the boot...only to start wearing a hard cast. That’s not a great sign, and it likely means we won’t see the big man in Jacksonville.
It is certainly not an ideal scenario to go into the NCAA Tournament with your only All-American sidelined with injury. You can’t help but wonder where the production will come from if he is wearing street clothes.
Washington currently leads the Wildcats in points (14.8 per game), rebounds (7.5 per game), and mean mugs. He is the emotional leader for the team, and the guy that the ball goes to when you need to stop a run from the other team.
Who else can do that?
Many people will point to Tyler Herro for production to make up for PJ’s absence. And while there are certainly games when I feel like he should get more shots than he does, there are nights when Herro simply cannot get it done.
Even if Herro is hitting shots, who can score in the paint? I know that Reid Travis has had some solid games, but we have also seen him struggle against longer, athletic bigs. He may be able to clean up a lot of the rebounding margin with PJ out, but he does not have the versatility to score in the same ways that Washington can.
Others may think the burden should fall on the guys getting his minutes, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Those guys certainly have their own things they need to do to contribute to the team, but filling PJ’s shoes is not one of them.
The man that needs to really step up is Keldon Johnson. I know he isn’t necessarily a post player. But I do think he has the ability to fill some gaps that would be left by PJ’s absence.
Johnson has the ability, more than anyone else, to get points in the paint seemingly at will. For whatever reason, he does not always take that approach. But at times this season, he has taken it upon himself to dominate.
When he is driving at fully speed, he draws fouls, gets buckets, and draws double teams to distribute to teammates. That’s exactly what PJ does, and Keldon needs to do more of it whether Washington plays or not.
Johnson also has the potential to be the emotional leader for the team. He is vocal, aggressive when he wants to be, and can make electrifying plays to get his team, and the crowd, going when they need a boost.
Two of Johnson’s best games this season have actually come in games where he was getting extended time at the 4 spot — 20 points in a win at Auburn and 22 in a win at Ole Miss.
Hopefully, Washington will be able to play at full speed. Maybe he will sit a game or two. But for as long as he is out, or even if he is just limited, Keldon Johnson has to be the guy to change his game to make a bigger impact for this team. If he does not step up, it could be an early exit for the Wildcats.