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Trending Hornets: PJ Washington had a solid Year 2 given his age and draft status

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.

PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among this year’s PER leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 17.7 and 31.3.

VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among this year’s VORP leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 1.6 and 8.6.

This week we will look at the brief trajectory of PJ Washington.

Career trend overview

Like his young teammate Miles Bridges, who I profiled last week, PJ Washington entered the league as the No. 12 overall pick. As I highlighted in last week’s column, the median players who represent No. 12 pick are Alec Burks and Gerald Henderson, per The Ringer, so sometimes we need to temper expectations with players selected toward the end of the draft lottery. PJ Washington was drafted in 2019 and just completed his second NBA season.

It’s hard to call two data points a trend, but it’s still worth noting that the 6-foot-7 forward improved both his PER and VORP in Year 2. His subtle development was overshadowed by the flashy addition of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and also by the electric late-season emergence of Miles Bridges. But make no mistake about it, PJ did take a half-step forward last year.

While his minutes per game last year stayed nearly equal with his rookie season at around 30 minutes per game, PJ improved his per-game scoring from 12.2 to 12.9, rebounding from 5.4 to 6.5, and assists from 2.1 to 2.5. He improved his 3-point shooting from 37.4% to a respectable 38.6%. While it’s easy to look at those numbers and mutedly say “Not bad…”, we need to remember PJ was just 22 years old last year.

I have a question for you: How many players under the age of 25 averaged at least 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game last year?

The answer: Seven.

Only six players put up better numbers than PJ at similar ages and the list is impressive: Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Dejounte Murray.

PJ Washington had a solid year last season when you look at it though the lens of his age and draft position. Some of this was overshadowed by the other story lines coming from Charlotte, but PJ’s overall development is right on schedule.

What this means for the Hornets

First, it means the Hornets were really smart in investing the No. 12 pick in 2019 in PJ Washington. Among players drafted in 2019 PJ ranks seventh in total points (1,534), first in total rebounds (734), and sixth in assists (284). Looking back over two year’s worth of contributions, PJ Washington has outperformed his draft position.

Looking forward, PJ is an important part of the Hornets young core consisting of him, LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, and James Bouknight, the No. 11 selection in this year’s draft. He’s versatile enough to play effectively as both a stretch four and a small ball five, and that flexibility gives coach James Borrego options.

Washington will be heavily relied upon in 2021-22. Charlotte has plenty of solid guards and wings, but limited options at both power forward and center. He will likely play somewhere around 30 minutes per game as he did in both of his first two seasons. There will be a lot of mouths to feed on the Hornets suddenly potent offense, so while PJ’s scoring might dip this year, his overall development could still take another step forward.