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PJ Washington Adapts to Newer Role in 3rd NBA Season

PJ Washington spent much of his third NBA season growing as a two-way option at both the power forward and center positions, while continuing to solidify himself as one of the league’s better floor-spacing young big men. 

A full-time starter his first two seasons, Washington began the 2021-22 campaign as a reserve before varying circumstances pushed him back into the first unit around the All-Star Break. Overall, he averaged 10.3 points on a career-high 47.0% shooting – 36.5% from 3-point range – 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, while also establishing a new personal best in 2-point percentage (60.6%) by a significant margin across 65 appearances, 28 being starts.

“I feel like I really improved this year on defense,” said Washington during exit interviews. “I want to get better with my ball-handling, finishing at the rim a lot more. Just getting more comfortable taking off-the-dribble shots and on defense, going out there and guarding one through five, honestly. I feel like I was better iso-defender than what I’ve been in the past. That boosted my confidence for sure. I’m really excited about that and continuing to get better in that area.”

Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury and the acquisition of Montrezl Harrell in early February led to some lineup tinkering for the Hornets, moving Washington from the backup five to the starting four and Miles Bridges to the starting three. On the year, 50% of Washington’s minutes came at center and 48% at power forward, marking a continued gravitation from last season (46% and 54%, respectively) and 2019-20 (12% and 88%) playing more small-ball five.

Although he got two-and-a-half fewer field-goal attempts this season compared to last, Washington regularly found ways to impact games, whether it was snagging loose balls, generating deflections, contesting shots or simply just spacing the floor. “For me, my whole goal is to win the basketball game,” he said. “I’m just happy when my team wins, no matter if I get zero points or 30 points. Being an X factor or a glue guy, I pride myself on doing that.” 

On top of the 3-point shooting, Washington has a nice array of scoring options to expand upon, including an old school, back-to-the-basket post game and accompanying hook shot. Like he mentioned, creating off the dribble more and attacking the basket will be a priority next season, which should lead to increased visits to the free-throw line as well (just 1.2 attempts).

Washington was pretty transparent about the team’s defense after the season, which needs quite a bit of internal growth to keep pace with a rapidly-improving Eastern Conference field. 

“I don’t really think our defense was any good this year,” he stated. “Teams were scoring at will at the basket on us. They were getting shots, threes, all that. You have to make people work for their shots and we weren’t really doing a good job at that this year. We have a lot of time to figure it out, look at film, get better and study the game. I think everybody’s excited.” 

Selflessly embracing a new role, Washington built on his versatility and developed a knack for making sometimes intangible, winning plays this season. And as one of the few players that’s been on the roster each of the last three seasons, Washington is eager to be a part of the group that takes another leap. 

“From when I first got here my rookie year winning 23 games and now winning 43 games is huge in this league,” he said. “We have a lot to work on, but I’m really proud to be here and really proud of our team this year. We matured a lot, won a lot more games based off knowing how to win games. We all understand where we want to be and what we need to do to get there. It’s a big summer ahead and everybody’s excited to get better, come back and do something bigger.”