One of the most intriguing physical specimens in college basketball, Michael Washington really put things together last season, breaking out in a big way. Though Arkansass season proved to be a tale of two halves, Washington showed flashes of brilliance throughout. A year older than his peers, Washington threw his name into the 2009 NBA draft before reconsidering and heading back to school. Considering he almost doubled his per-40 outputs in some areas between his sophomore and junior seasons, one cant fault Washington for heading back to Fayetteville given the upward trend in his production and the opportunity to improve his resume by leading a Razorback squad that returns essentially all of its contributors to a strong season.
Last time we checked in on Washington in-depth last January, we saw a player blossoming despite a lack of fundamentals in some areas. Washingtons biggest strength has always been his impressive blend of size and athleticism, and last season saw him step out of a much smaller role and diversify his offensive game considerably. His point per-play jumped from 0.79 to 1.00, an incredibly significant gain given his possessions per-game almost tripled to 13.6. While few bigmen make such a jump in productivity, what makes Washingtons development more impressive is how he was scoring those points.
According to Synergy Sports technology, almost 26% of Washingtons touches came in the form of post-ups, a considerable jump from the 8% they accounted for last season. Though he continued to get a large proportion of his touches by virtue of his athleticism and rebounding ability, this upward trend in post-touches will be a key point of interest for NBA-types and an important aspect of Washingtons game to keep an eye on. Receiving nearly three-quarters of his post touches on the left block, Washington uses a quick dribble going right to create enough space to jump stop into scoring position. His aggressiveness with that move and the sheer quantity of touches he gets with defenders draped over him at the rim allow him to get to the line 7.0 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted. If he can merely improve his 60% free throw shooting, hell be a much more intimidating offensive threat on the NCAA level.
Though he shows some nice things when he opts to face-up, at this point, Washingtons ability to beat his man in the post has more to do with his aggressiveness turning the corner than anything else. He lacks post moves in a traditional sense, scoring a lot of his points by hustling down the floor and establishing good position on the block. Though his face-up ability is considered an area of strength, it is still something hell need to focus on and utilize more consistently to showcase it.
Washingtons lack of fundamentals in the post give him intriguing potential in that aspect of the game, but his ability to shoot the ball from the midrange could be equally important to his long-term success. Displaying solid touch on his shot all the way out to three point range, Washington doesnt have the prettiest stroke, polished perimeter footwork, or ideal consistency. However, his ability to move away from the block and hit shots is interesting to say the least, though his willingness to take deep jumpers isnt always a positive thing. With the footspeed to run the pick and pop effectively with little feel for positioning or footwork, Washingtons ability to improve his perimeter repertoire in practice will key to his NBA future, as that part of his game adds another dimension to what he brings to the table offensively. He may never possess the ball-handling ability to fully utilize his athleticism, but if he can polish one of two of the things he does well on the offensive end to go along with what he already can offer an NBA team in terms of hustle plays and rebounding, hell have himself well positioned moving into next summer.
Defensively, Washington has a few defining characteristics. First, his size, wingspan, and athleticism help rank him as one of the most proficient all-around rebounders in our database. Second, his 3.1 personal fouls per-game place him highly in that category as well, an indication that his lack of defensive intensity has helped him decrease his fouling just enough to keep him on the floor. Third, Washington is capable of being more productive than his 1.0 steals 1.3 blocks per-game let on. Though his fundamentals leave a lot to be desired and he plays tentatively to stay out of foul trouble, Washingtons raw physical tools could be a much more prominent asset to him defensively. Showing the ability to keep up with much smaller players when switched onto them on the perimeter, Washington has all kinds of defensive potential having no problem making a play when in the right place at the right time-but has to learn how to go straight up in the post, be more disciplined against fakes, and play as though hes aware that his defensive presence will have a lot to do with where hes drafted if his offensive development stagnates.
As a 22 year-old senior, Washingtons raw skills may give him potential, but NBA teams will do their homework on his intangibles and ability to fulfill his promise, as older prospects without polish in some area seldom get a free-pass from talent evaluators. Given what he accomplished last year, Washington stands to gain as much as any player in his class from a marginal improvement. No one expects him to explode up draft boards like he did last season, but the signs of progress he shows will determine whether he is selected in the late-first round or begins to slide further down draft boards.