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Jay Bilas sees PJ Washington as likely NBA starter with a long career

P.J. Washington (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

If ESPN analyst Jay Bilas is right, PJ Washington is going to be the first Kentucky player picked in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

He has Washington ranked 13th on his list of players going into the draft — ahead of both Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson. All three UK players have been invited to attend the draft by NBA officials.

“Not that I’m saying that’s where he’ll be drafted, but that’s where I have him on my list of prospects, irrespective of what teams think of him. He’s a 6-9 forward that can step away and knock down a perimeter shot. He’s a good athlete. Solid, a solid prospect,” said Bilas during a NBA Draft conference call with national media members Monday.

Washington averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 29.3 minutes per game for UK last year as a sophomore. He shot 52.2 percent overall from the field and 42.3 percent (33 of 78) from 3-point range. He also was a 66.3 percent shooter at the foul line. He had 63 assists, 43 blocks and 29 steals. He led the team in scoring, rebounding and 3-point percentage. He was second in blocked shots and overall field goal percentage.

Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s draft coverage for the 17th straight year, expects Washington to be a good NBA player for a “long time” from all he’s seen.

“He’s just solid. With his athletic profile, the fact that he’s very skilled, do I see him being a star in the NBA, an All-Star? Probably not,” Bilas said. “Do I see him being a starter in the league? I do. I think he’s got the opportunity to play for a long, long time.”

Washington contemplated putting his name into the draft after his freshman year before deciding to return to UK where he improved his shooting and consistency.

“I think he certainly helped himself (coming back). It doesn’t mean that’s the only way. He certainly is going to be drafted higher this year than he would have been last year. Coming back and working on his game, being a more finished product I think was immensely helpful to improving his draft position,” Bilas said.

“Now, had he gone pro last year out of college, after just one year at Kentucky, could things have worked out just as well if not better? Of course. There’s no rule book or road map for this.”

However, Washington went from a likely high second round pick in 2018 to a very possible lottery pick this week.

“If you’re looking at it just from improving draft stock, absolutely he improved his draft stock by coming back. I think he is a better player, more prepared to step into the NBA and be productive right away. He still has a lot of improving to do and I think is going to be a good player in the NBA,” Bilas said.

“He became far more consistent. You could tell that he was more assertive, confident, impacted the game in far more ways than he did as a freshman. PJ is a good passer, has a good understanding of the game. He showed that he could step out and knock a perimeter shot down. He could go into the post and be a go-to scorer with his back to the basket.

“I think he improved his body, did a much better job of running the floor. He was much better as a defender, rebounding, protecting the rim, things of that nature. He improved in every conceivable way I think and became more of a leader. You could tell just by the way he carried himself, much more confident as a player.”

Bilas again emphasized there is no right or wrong time for a player to turn professional depending on his goals and perspective. However, he says it is easy to see the value in Washington staying at Kentucky for a second season.

“You certainly can’t argue with his decision, that he did everything right,” Bilas said.

3 comments

  1. PJ may indeed be the first KY player selected. He may also be picked in the first round due this draft being noticeably void of big man talent, but I see Tyler Herro having the best and longest career in the NBA out of the three, if he can step up to the NBA level of defensive play…and I think he can. It may take him a year or two to do so, but he is tough and savvy. His shooting will carry him through and I would not be surprised to see him have a Devin Booker type of career. As for PJ, I do not see him being in the NBA in 5 years. He is not ready for the NBA and will most likely end his first year in the G league. I don’t see him toughing it out there as he has always felt entitled to have opportunities handed to him versus work for them. I don’t know what to make of Keldon. I sure wish he had stayed with us another year. I hope things go well for him.

  2. Nice post as usual Cat, think you are dead on with Herro’s assessment, however, I respectfully disagree with you on P.J.. I think he is probably one of the most overlooked players in the draft. He improved his outside shooting tremendously this past year and no one I’ve seen at his position has as deadly a jump hook…he can defend almost all the positions on the court and always was given the opposition’s toughest player to contain. His build, leaping ability, incredible reach, and strength bode well for him in, THE MEN’S LEAGUE. His only area of weakness IMO is free throw shooting, which I believe is more a concentration thing than machanics…he improved that this past year and will continue to get better. It will be interesting to see which one of our assessments prove out in the long run.

  3. I am somewhere in between HFB and Catmandoo on P,J. thinking that he will be a solid performer if he has the “want to” but will have to have more consistency at the pro level than showed in the SEC. The competition will be a lot better at higher level than SEC, and he didn’t always show the consistency he probably should have had. Also feel that he will be more reluctant to take inside because of the higher level of resistance. Tyler gets my vote as having the biggest upside of the three. We really got cheated with him not coming back as he was my favorite player on the team. I have never really been a big fan of Keldon, and I think it might be that he didn’t always answer the bell but that is visible by many player at college level.

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