PJ Washington is a Rorschach Test for Charlotte Hornets fans. You can describe him as an inconsistent tweener that struggles to rebound, bang with bigs, and score around the basket. You can also describe him as a versatile big that unlocks the Hornets pace-and-space offense with his athleticism, outside shooting, and passing ability.
Both would be right.
The toughest part of evaluating PJ Washington’s game is deciphering the net contributions with such wide ranges of strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are really strong, but the weaknesses have been very weak. With that have come ups and downs in production, displayed most prominently last season when he followed up a 42-point performance (his career high by 15 points) with three points and three rebounds in 30 minutes the very next night.
Despite the inconsistency, Washington has been a very positive player for the Hornets. Lineups with Washington at the five last season handled opponents with ease and were above average both offensively and defensively. His ability to grab a rebound and bring the ball up in transition makes the Hornets even more difficult to stop on the break. His quick release and 3-point shooting ability drags centers away from the basket, opening up driving lanes for teammates. His passing keeps the offense moving. Defensively, he makes the Hornets uber switchable, and he’s currently the team’s best shot blocker. With Washington at the five, the Hornets are super disruptive and force turnovers in bunches.
The Hornets were a mixed bag with Washington at the four last season, but the mix was almost wholly dependent on which center PJ shared the floor with. With Washington and Cody Zeller as the team’s big, the Hornets were good. Replace Zeller with Bismack Biyombo, and the Hornets were atrocious.
PJ Washington probably won’t get many minutes next to a Bismack Biyombo-like center this season. If the preseason is any indication, while Mason Plumlee is healthy, Washington will come off the bench as the team’s backup center as the Hornets try to blitz teams with their small ball lineup. When Washington does slide down to the four, he’ll probably spend the bulk of those minutes with Plumlee, who is more similar to Zeller than Biyombo. There may be some minutes with Nick Richards, but hopefully those are relatively infrequent.
This season is a big one for PJ. There are elements to his game that give him all the potential in the world. It’s hard to find players that can hit threes and block shots. It’s even harder to find players that can do both of those things while being an above average passer for their position. It just becomes a matter of improving the holes in his game so they don’t stand out so much.
We saw Miles Bridges take to a bench role in year three, and by the end of the season, he broke out in a big way. PJ Washington finds himself in almost the exact same spot this season. He has a chance to dominate backup bigs off the bench and he should flourish offensively in all-athlete lineups with Bridges, Kelly Oubre, Terry Rozier, and LaMelo Ball. He can win in that role and hopefully build off that to become an even better player as he becomes relied on more this season and in the future.