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PJ Washington showed what he’s capable of defensively in his Maverick debut

The new addition made noticeable defensive plays against the Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

In the Dallas Mavericks drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the trade-deadline additions of Daniel Gafford and PJ Washington both acted as difference makers. In their Maverick debuts, they scored efficiently and provided a huge burst of energy to the entire squad.

Gafford made his presence felt in the paint, registering a block and four offensive rebounds and generally looking like the special rim deterrent he’s been marketed as. At the same time, PJ Washington played a very nice game on the defensive end. He moved his feet very well and did a great job competing against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA.

Washington’s defense really stood out in both the first and fourth quarters. A few minutes after checking into the game, the new Maverick found himself defending a pick and a roll against the dangerous Gilgeous-Alexander.

Washington aggressively hedges the screen, trusting the backside defense to help on Chet Holmgren rolling to the rim. He uses active hands to poke the ball away and comes up with a steal, igniting a fast-break dunk the other way. This is a great example of the kind of event playmaker he can be on the defensive end. A couple of plays later, Washington found himself matched up with Gilgeous-Alexander.

Shai hits the shot here, but Washington stays in front of him and denies him access to the rim, forcing a tough fadeaway. Sometimes, great offensive players will hit tough shots — good defense, better offense. Still, Washington does a great job. The next time down for OKC, Washington again checks Gilgeous-Alexander after a Thunder offensive rebound.

Holmgren ends up hitting a three after Gafford is late to close out, but this is tremendous defense from Washington. Again, he uses his length and athleticism to deny Shai access to the paint. He bites a little bit on the pump fake but recovers enough to avoid fouling Shai as he rises for a potential jumper, forcing a pass to the corner.

In the second and third quarters, Washington didn’t impact the game too much on defense. That said, he didn’t do anything wrong; he just wasn’t involved in very much action. But in the fourth quarter, with the Mavericks blowing out their lead to emasculating levels, Washington wreaked havoc.

Early in the period, Washington was matched up with Thunder guard Jalen Williams, an explosive player who is averaging 18.6 points per game on ultra-efficient shooting this season.

This is really impressive stuff. Washington was giving Williams a step initially, but respects his three-point shot (45% on the year) and closes out when the ball swings his way. Williams takes the opportunity to attack off the catch, but Washington stays right with him and completely walls him off. Williams halfheartedly tries a dribble move but Washington isn’t letting him by, forcing a pass to the corner for a contested three. On the next Thunder possession, Washington gets put in pick-and-roll action with Josh Green

Just like the play in the first quarter, Washington aggressively hedges. Josh Green provides an excellent rearview contest while Williams has trouble with Washington’s presence; the result is a Green steal and fast break the other way. We all know about Josh Green’s struggle with screen navigation this year. But maybe, having someone like Washington to defend action with will be helpful for him — Washington has the athleticism to switch, hedge, and trap, giving Green time to catch up and contest from the rear. On the very next possession, Washington gets a chance to showcase his versatility on the defensive end.

Josh Giddey attacks in semi-transition and quickly initiates a pick-and-roll with Kenrich Williams. Washington, knowing his personnel, isn’t phased and simply drops into the paint. He gives Giddey a bit of space, but still contests by going straight up with two hands. Washington knows he doesn’t have to be super aggressive here; Giddey had been having an awful game and had no confidence in his ability to make shots, and he’s not a great finisher in the paint anyway. Washington doesn’t want to pick up an unnecessary foul and can live with Giddey hitting a contested floater.

One more play stood out. The game was all but over at this point, but Washington and the Mavericks were still competing hard on defense.

Washington gets switched onto Giddey in the pick-and-roll. Giddey immediately tries to attack him, but Washington is having none of it. Again, he builds a wall and aggressively forces Giddey into a desperate pass that Tim Hardaway Jr. is easily able to pick off.

Washington had impressive defensive plays against all three major OKC ball handlers (SGA, Williams, and Giddey). He showcased his ability to be an impact defender on the perimeter with a high defensive IQ when it comes to screen navigation. Hopefully, we’ll see Washington do similar things in the paint as a weak-side rim protector; he didn’t get much of an opportunity to showcase that part of his game in his debut.

Against the Thunder, Washington gave us a glimpse of what he can bring to the defensive table. The hope is that he can do this consistently and take pride in using his athletic gifts to become a monster on defense. If he does, this trade will look like a stroke of genius.