The foot injury that cost Charlotte Hornets rookie PJ Washington two NCAA tournament games with Kentucky will force him out of NBA summer league.
The Hornets are shutting down Washington, who they chose 12th in the NBA draft, due to ongoing soreness in his left foot. That injury, which flared up during the SEC tournament, had Washington wearing a protective boot and using a scooter during Kentucky’s first two games of the NCAA tournament.
Washington recovered in time to play in the third and fourth rounds of the NCAAs before Kentucky was eliminated. He said Wednesday the pain never completely subsided.
“I’m just trying to rehab it as best I can, and be ready for training camp” in September, said Washington, a 6-7 power forward who may also play some center for the Hornets.
“Its nothing major, but it is summer league, and we don’t want to have a setback here as we head toward training camp,” Hornets coach James Borrego added.
A team spokesman said Washington is not expected to need corrective surgery. The Hornets signed Washington to his rookie-scale contract Wednesday, guaranteeing him about $6.5 million for the next two seasons.
Given the NBA’s 82-game schedule and demands of the game, foot injuries can be particularly problematic.
“I want to play basketball. Just watching it is definitely hard for me. I’m trying to learn as much as I can” without playing or practicing, Washington said.
This is the second time in three years that the Hornets’ lottery pick will miss summer league due to injury. Malik Monk, another Kentucky player chosen 11th overall in 2017, had to sit out summer league before his rookie season with an ankle sprain suffered in pre-draft workouts.
Washington originally injured his left foot — Kentucky called it a sprain — in an SEC tournament loss to Tennessee on March 16. He missed the first two rounds of the NCAAs in Jacksonville, Fla., using a boot and scooter to get around. Although Washington played well the next weekend in Kansas City, his pain level was so high he had to hop around on his right leg after his first game back.
Washington is expected to play primarily power forward as a rookie, but he eventually may branch into playing some center, according Borrego. Washington said that plays to his strength.
“I feel like I’m versatile — that I can do a lot of different things on the court,” said Washington. “Whatever coach needs, I feel like I can apply it to the court.”
Borrego now considers Miles Bridges’ primary spot to be power forward.
“Miles could end up being our starting power forward,” Borrego said. “That’s where we’re trending toward; playing Miles at that 4 spot.”
Bridges, the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Michigan State, started the Hornets’ last 25 games last season. That was at small forward, with Nic Batum moving from small forward to shooting guard and Jeremy Lamb going to the second unit. Marvin Williams, entering his 15th NBA season, was the Hornet’ starter at power forward last season.
The 6-foot-7 Bridges did play a lot of his minutes last season as a small-ball power forward. Using smaller players at power forward is a trend in the NBA. In this case, it would mean Bridges spending less time guarding sleeker, quicker players.
“Especially the way we finished the year (winning eight of the last 12), Miles did a great job of attacking the rim in transition and setting screens at that 4 spot.,” Borrego said. “We’re just a little bit more dynamic and athletic with him at the 4.”
Borrego said this is more a direction at this point than a final decision:
“Summer league will provide a lot of those answers; watching him at both (forward) spots.”
Monk, Bacon, Martin
Borrego addressed several roster and positional decision:
▪ On third-season shooting guard Monk choosing not to play summer league: “(Playing in Las Vegas) was one thing we did bring up. But I like where he’s at right now, development-wise. He’s in the weight room a ton and I think that’s the focus. The body (adding strength and bulk) is the focus right now,”
▪ On whether the Hornets are in rebuilding mode, with Kemba Walker departing for the Boston Celtics: “(The roster) could look the same as it does now, or over the next week or two it could change. There’ s a lot of things out there that I know Mitch (Kupchak, the Hornets general manager) is working through. We’re not a roster that is set right now.”
Borrego isn’t allowed during the NBA’s signing moratorium (which ends Saturday) to speak directly about Walker’s departure or the Hornets’ plan to acquire former Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier in a sign-and-trade.
▪ Borrego said he’s comfortable using Dwayne Bacon next season at both shooting guard and small forward.
“He’s both. He’s big enough to play the 3. What we need to see a little bit more in summer league is him making plays for others at that 2-spot,” Borrego said. “He can get to the rim and make plays for himself. He has really changed his body this summer where he’s strong and physical. He got to the rim consistently in practice. Now, can he make plays for others? That’s where I want to see him make the next step.”
▪ For now, Borrego views second-round rookie Cody Martin as a big (6-foot-6) point guard who might also play some shooting guard. Borrego said it’s too soon to tell if Martin will be ready to be the Hornets’ third option at point guard next season, or whether the Hornets should consider adding another veteran at point.