Charlotte Hornets – P.J. Washington’s case for Most Improved Player

Through the first seven games of the Charlotte Hornets 2022-23 regular season, P.J. Washington has had his share of ups and downs. He’s had bad shooting nights and nights where he fouled out, but he’s also had electrifying scoring performances. One consistency, however, is that Washington is showing he has improved dramatically.

Washington set the tone for the early part of his career early. In his first game for the Charlotte Hornets, he dropped 27 points and grabbed four boards on 75% true shooting. Washington finished the season with 12 points and six rebounds per game. He earned recognition for his fantastic rookie season, as he was named to the All-Rookie second team.

Washington continued to prove himself through his second and third seasons. He established himself as a solid 3-and-D forward, one of the most valuable player archetypes in the modern NBA. He can guard the perimeter and provide help-side paint protection. In a way, Washington has become an underrated paint protector, as in 2020-21, he ranked 14th in the NBA in total blocks. To begin the 2022-23 season, Washington is 17th in total blocks, with nine through seven games.

Washington has struggled to guard bigger forwards and centers, however.  When the injury bug hit The Hornets, Washington was elevated to play significant center minutes. This proved to be troublesome on the defensive end simply because he lacks the height and length to guard centers on a regular basis.

Washington has also seen a drastic role change under the Steve Clifford regime. Coach Clifford has trusted him to create more offense off the dribble and in the post. Washington rarely saw these tasks under James Borrego, as his role for the first three years of his career was to shoot off the catch and spot up while the guards created offense. His mid-range shot has also taken a noticeable leap forward. This season, around 11% of his attempted shots are long mid-range (between 16ft and the 3p line) shots. His previous high mark had been 2.5% in his sophomore year.

Washington has made the most of this opportunity. In a win against the defending champions, Golden State Warriors, he scored 31 points and grabbed seven rebounds. He hit multiple clutch shots and played fantastic defense. He followed up this performance with a 28-point masterclass against the Sacramento Kings. Unfortunately, his efforts ended in a 115-108 loss at home.

Washington is scoring 17 points and five rebounds per game while also shooting a career-high from three-point range and the charity stripe. While he struggled to find his rhythm over the first week of play, his 59 points over two games signify good things to come. Coach Clifford trusts Washington on the offensive end, and Washington is delivering so far. This is a situation that all hornets fans should be excited about, as we are amid a breakout season for P.J. Washington.