No player on the Hornets roster has more on the line in 2022-23 than fourth-year forward PJ Washington.
From an individual standpoint, the No. 12 pick in the 2019 draft is entering the final year of his rookie contract of 4-years, $12 million, so this season he’s playing for that all-important second NBA contract.
From a team standpoint, the Hornets need Washington to fill at least some of the scoring void created by the absence of Miles Bridges and his 20.2 points per game last season. No player on Charlotte’s roster will be asked to step up his offensive game more than PJ Washington this year.
While I don’t expect PJ to suddenly blossom into a borderline All-Star, he should be able to impact games this year much more than he has in the past due to Charlotte’s somewhat weird roster construction. The Hornets have three traditional centers with Mason Plumlee, Nick Richards, and rookie Mark Williams. Charlotte also has a bunch of traditional small forward wings in Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Cody Martin.
But without Miles Bridges in the fold, the roster gets wonky at the power forward spot, PJ’s natural position. Behind him on the depth chart is Jalen McDaniels who skews more toward a small forward wing than a true power forward. The only other traditional “four” on the roster is JT Thor, a nice prospect no doubt, but he’s still too raw to be a regular contributor on a team with playoff aspirations.
That leaves a glaringly bright spotlight on PJ Washington at power forward. By default, the Hornets will need him to play more than the 27.2 minutes he averaged last year and score more buckets.
PJ’s offensive game has been fine but underwhelming over the last two years. As a rookie in 2019-20 he averaged a respectable 12.2 points on 45.5% shooting. The following year he was basically the same player by averaging 12.9 points on 44.0% shooting. Then last year he averaged a career-low 27.2 minutes along with a career-low 10.3 points per game, but he did register a career-high 47.0% field goal percentage.
Throw in Washington’s career 37.5% 3-point percentage and he’s a capable though reluctant scorer. There are no two ways around it: Without Miles Bridges the Hornets need PJ Washington to become more of an active scoring threat instead of the passive opportunist he was last year. Charlotte needs to up his scoring this year to closer to 15 points per game.
With this being the last year of his rookie contract, my assumption is he will be personally motivated to have a great campaign. Now please don’t get me wrong - I’m not insinuating that PJ’s a selfish player who’s going to put his own stats over the team’s best interests. He’s not a selfish player. But the notion of a “contract year” in professional sports is a real thing and he will likely be motivated to help the Hornets win while also showing every other GM what he’s capable of as he eyes restricted free agency.
From a defensive standpoint, PJ’s solid. Last year his Defensive Box Plus/Minus at Basketball Reference was third best on the team behind Mason Plumlee and Cody Martin. The year before he was also third on the team, just a whisker behind Cody Martin and LaMelo Ball. ESPN’s advanced metrics from last season ranked PJ’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus at No. 32 of 82 power forwards.
I like PJ Washington’s overall game. I just wish I saw more of it and more often. He’s a capable 3-point shooter for his position, he’s a plus defender, and he rebounds well enough. This season will show us just how good - or just how limited - his offensive game can be.
The Hornets will simply need more from PJ Washington in Year 4 when compared to past seasons. The team has a lot riding on him, and as PJ looks forward to his next contract, he’s got a lot riding on himself.
Will PJ Washington average at least 15 points this year?
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