WFNZ/Jason Huber

Is PJ Washington G-League Bound?

Jason Huber
June 21, 2019 - 2:31 pm

An NBA lottery pick spending time in the NBA G-League is not common.

The G-League is widely used as a development league to help improve second-round and undrafted players, but it seems Charlotte could take a different approach next season with its lottery pick.

The Hornets picked PJ Washington 12th overall, and while most expect an immediate impact from a player taken that high, general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted otherwise.

Kupchak stated multiple times in his four appearances with the media since the draft that all three of Charlotte's draft picks could easily spend time in the G-League.

"We always anticipate that they will spend time in the G-League, not only to get shots up but to get game time, conditioning and adjusting to a different level of basketball," Kupchak said. "Going forward, we do expect that with the players we drafted yesterday.”

That’s far from the norm.

In fact, of the 108 players selected in the Top 12 of the NBA Draft since 2009, excluding this year's draft, only 15 players have played in the G-League.

Of those 15, only 12 played in the G-League within their first four years in the NBA.

Of the 12, only four played in the G-League during their rookie season. 

The list of four includes Noah Vonleh, whom Charlotte drafted ninth overall in 2014. He spent most of his rookie year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

Luke Kennard in 2017, Taurean Prince in 2016 and Cole Aldrich in 2010 are the other three. 

Vonleh took a few years to develop before breaking out with the New York Knicks this past season, Prince and Kennard have become role players for the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons, respectively, and Aldrich fell out of the league in 2018. 

The four have combined to play in an average of 970 games and average 6.2 points, four rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. 

Washington has already proven that spending extra time to work on his game has excelled his development.

After declaring for the draft following his freshman season at Kentucky, Washington opted to return for his sophomore season under head coach John Calipari, where his game improved exponentially.

As a sophomore, Washington averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Defensively, Washington averaged 1.8 blocks per game and has a skillset on both ends of the floor.

"I think it's just your mentality," Washington said. "It's how you use it and come in and get your stuff done and how you carry yourself. It's basically just trying to get better. ...

"I feel like I'm a lot more versatile than I was. My confidence grew and I feel like I matured.”

A big reason for Kupchak being so high on the team's G-League team can likely be attributed to the success of Dwayne Bacon and Devonte’ Graham last season.

Graham, the Hornets 2018 second-round pick spent 13 games with the Greensboro Swarm as a rookie, where he averaged 23.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Bacon, a 2017 second-round pick by Charlotte, spent four games as a rookie in Greensboro and 17 games in 2017, averaging 23 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

At the end of last season, the Hornets opted to play their younger players and Graham and Bacon became key impact players for the team during their late-season playoff push.

Bacon wound up playing 43 total games for Charlotte last season, starting 13. All told, he averaged 7.3 points per game, including a career-high 24 points against the San Antonio Spurs in March.

"We hope with our player development program and the exposure to our G-League team in Greensboro (Swarm), hopefully, they can do and progress as much as Dwayne Bacon and Devonte' Graham did this season," Kupchak said. "That means you play in the NBA and from time to time you play in the G-League depending on your how hard you work and the development they make.”

"This is a league where players are bigger, stronger, quicker and faster. With most rookies, that typically is the biggest adjustment that they have to make," Kupchak said. "The game is fast enough as it is, but at this level, it goes really fast. Sometimes, it just takes time to catch up and get into the mix of it."

The Hornets currently have seven forwards on their roster. The plethora of big forwards, in addition to the team's centers, could leave Washington in a battle for playing time.

However, with the possible experience in the G-League, Kupchak envisions a lineup full of forwards.

"His (Washington) athletic ability and his skill level are certainly good enough to when he does catch on, he will catch on quickly and he will catch on for good," Kupchak said.

"To have a G-League team so close to the home franchise where we could have a player go back-and-forth, that's a huge benefit to our organization. Everything we've done in the last year is to continue growing our player development program."

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