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Trending Hornets: PJ Washington’s progress remains behind schedule

Entering Year 4, it’s time the former No. 12 overall pick progresses from an average contributor to an impact player.

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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 last season’s PER leaders, the Top 20 players were 21.8 and higher while Nos. 21-40 ranged from 18.9 to 21.6.

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 last season’s VORP leaders, the Top 20 were 3.5 and higher and Nos. 21-40 ranged from 2.2 to 3.4.

This week we’ll look at the trajectory of PJ Washington.

Mick Smiley, At the Hive

2021-22 results and league ranks

PER: 13.6; ranked 117th overall

VORP: 0.9; ranked 134th overall

Career trend overview

PJ joined the Hornets as the No. 12 pick in the 2019 draft and had a pretty good rookie season for a late lottery pick. In his first NBA season he averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in just over 30 minutes per game. His PER of 12.4 wasn’t far below the league average of 15 while his VORP of 0.2 was just above replacement level. That’s just fine for a rookie drafted where PJ was selected.

But now with three NBA seasons under his belt, PJ Washington is…still roughly the same player he was as a rookie?

This past season his PER of 13.6 is just a whisker above his rookie season result of 12.4 and still falls below league average. His PER ranks an uninspiring 117th in the league. His VORP of 0.9 doesn’t really differentiate him all that much above replacement level players and ranks just 134th in the NBA.

Average those numbers together and PJ comes out as the 125th best player in a league with 150 starters. That’s not bad, but it’s not where you want the former No. 12 overall pick to be after his third season.

That said, PJ Washington did make some strides last year. While he averaged career lows with 27.2 minutes, 10.3 points, and 5.2 rebounds, he was actually more effective as a scorer. His field goal percentage of 47.0% last year was much better than his 44.0% in 2020-21.

And while PJ’s progress has been slower and his ceiling may be lower than many Hornets fans would like to see, he’s still getting a little better each year. He was just 23 years old last season so there’s still some hope he can progress from average contributor to more of an impact player.

What this means for the Hornets

The 2022-23 season will be a huge one for PJ and the Hornets front office as it will be the last year of Washington’s rookie contract. PJ’s career could go a host of different directions based on how this upcoming season plays out.

One of the biggest unknown variables impacting Washington’s role this year - and potentially his future in Charlotte - is what happens with Miles Bridges. It’s possible Bridges could sign with another team or potentially face a lengthy suspension, and either of those outcomes would place a heavier burden on PJ Washington to perform like the lottery pick that he is. Without Bridges, PJ likely morphs from a key reserve to a starter. A strong 2022-23 season could end up with him signing an extension with the Hornets a year from now since they own his Bird rights and can go over the cap to re-sign him.

Another possibility is Washington becomes a valuable trade chip if Mitch Kupchak decides to revamp the roster via a trade. After all, PJ will be just 24 years old, is a decent contributor on both ends of the court, and still has some upside. Some rebuilding teams might be willing to part with a veteran for a package featuring PJ Washington and some draft capital.

The upcoming season will be a big one for PJ Washington. No matter what happens with Miles Bridges, it’s time PJ takes a noticeable step forward and progress from a good player to an impactful one.