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2021-22 Season Review: PJ Washington

The third year big established himself as a key utility piece in the Hornets rotation.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

PJ Washington had to adjust to a new role this season. After starting 118 of his first 122 games as a pro, he was moved to the bench to make room for the emergent Miles Bridges. There was an adjustment period, but ultimately found success in the role and he played himself onto the floor for close to his normal allotment of minutes.

Washington’s biggest strength is his versatility and ability to play both the four and the five. For the second consecutive season, the Hornets outscored their opponents by a significant margin with Washington at the five, even if it wasn’t always pretty. They struggled defensively and on the glass, but they forced a lot of turnovers and scored 120.3 points per 100 possessions, well above the league leading Jazz’s 116.3 for the season. Those numbers were even better with Miles Bridges at the four alongside Washington—those lineups outscored opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions.

Those lineups work because of Washington’s ability to knock down shots from the outside and handle the ball better than a more traditional center. He averaged 2.3 assists per game, and he averaged 2.7 assists per start. He shot 36.5% from three, which is a career low but still a respectable number for a big. It seemed like he either couldn’t miss or could hardly hit the rim with little in between, but he has plenty of time to work out the consistency.

The biggest revelation for Washington this season was his potential as a defender. He averaged 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. He got himself into foul trouble at times, but sometimes it seemed to help him. He locked up Nikola Jokic in the fourth quarter of a comeback win over the Nuggets, and he did that while operating with five fouls pretty much the entire time. Wehn he was locked in, he showed the ability to body up physical bigs and use his length to disrupt their shots. He also has a bit of an advantage as bigs tend to underestimate how well he can contest shots given his size.

Washington isn’t a big stats guy, and he’s still struggling with bouts of inconsistency, but he’s established himself as a key piece of the core for the Hornets. The team plays well with him on the floor because he does such a good job filling in the gaps. He can make big shots when the team needs him to, or he can clamp up post players defensively. The Hornets outscored their opponents both with Washington at the four and Washington at the five.

Washington will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason, but it remains to be seen if that’s something both and he the Hornets are able to work out. It’s possible at least one of the two sides lets Washington play out his contract and enter restricted free agency next summer.

Washington has been frequently thrown into trade rumors. He’s perceived as being on the fringes of the team’s foundation, but he would also be a very appealing piece for a team moving off a good player.

Long term, the Hornets surely would prefer to keep PJ around. He’s not an easy player to replace, and even with his occasional bouts of inconsistency, the Hornets are always better when he’s on the floor.