PJ Washington looks to join Kentucky’s impressive list of players to win the NBA Finals

Photo of Travis Perry via UK Athletics

The University of Kentucky has the greatest tradition in men’s college basketball history, but over the years, success at the next level hasn’t been as great. That began to change with John Calipari’s one-and-done system over the past 15 years, which has produced more than 50 NBA players coming out of the Joe Craft Center.

That being said, only two former Wildcats who played under Calipari have been part of an NBA Finals-winning team. Anthony Davis won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 before Jamal Murray won one with the Denver Nuggets last season. DeMarcus Cousins finally received a championship ring from the Lakers in 2020, although he was not playing on the team when the title was actually won.

This trio alone could make for a dangerous starting five of Calipari-era players. What if we added PJ Washington to the mix?

After being shipped from the Charlotte Hornets to the Dallas Mavericks before the trade deadline earlier this season, Washington helped transform a team that was once on the outside looking in. Playing alongside Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, the 6-foot-9 forward gave Dallas some extra presence, some needed rebounding and a worthy defender throughout the regular season.

A few months later, Washington had a chance to help the Mavericks win the franchise’s second Layy O’Brien Trophy. Starting Thursday night, Dallas will face the league’s top seed, the Boston Celtics, in a seven-game series to determine the 2023-24 champion.

Washington will be as big an X-factor as any of the non-star players. Over the course of 17 playoff games, the 25-year-old averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 36.5 minutes per outing. He’s shooting 43.2 percent overall, 36.3 percent from distance and 69.2 percent from the line.

Certainly, the NBA playoffs have been eventful thus far for Washington. He shot just 31.3 percent from deep in the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, but saw that figure explode to 46.9 percent in the following series against the Oklahoma City Thunder ( which featured his former Kentucky teammate and MVP finalist, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). He did, however, come back down to earth a bit against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals – 25 percent from long range.

But if we deviate from this trend, Washington is going to experience another round of hot shooting, right? If he makes more than 40 percent of his three-pointers, the Celtics will have some problems. It all starts tonight.

  • Game 1 in Boston | Thursday, June 6 (8:30 p.m. EST) ABC
  • Game 2 in Boston | Sunday, June 9 (8 p.m. EST) ABC
  • Game 3 in Dallas | Wednesday, June 12 (8:30 p.m. EST) ABC
  • Game 4 in Dallas | Friday, June 14 (8:30 p.m. EST) ABC
  • *Game 5 in Boston | Monday, June 17 (8:30 p.m. EST) ABC
  • *Game 6 in Dallas | Thursday, June 20 (8:30 p.m. EST) ABC
  • *Game 7 in Boston | Sunday, June 23 (8 p.m. EST) ABC

An illustrious group of NBA champions

PJ Washington has the chance to join a group of former Wildcats to win an NBA Finals historically reserved for some of the program’s all-time greats. According to BigBlueHistory, only 17 former Kentucky players have won an NBA championship at some point in their professional careers.

In total, 11 of those 17 future Hall of Famers won an NBA title.

Just look at this list of past winners. Players with in bold the names are members of the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. It’s unlikely that Washington will ever be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame, but adding his name to the list below would be quite an accomplishment for the former All-SEC performer.

Player Last season played
(in Kentucky)
NBA season (NBA team)
Paul Noel 1942-43 1950-51 (Rochester Royals)
Lou Tsioropoulos 1953-54 1956-57 (Boston Celtics)
1958-59 (Boston Celtics)
Frank Ramsey 1953-54 1956-57 (Boston Celtics)
1958-59 (Boston Celtics)
1959-60 (Boston Celtics)
1960-61 (Boston Celtics)
1961-62 (Boston Celtics)
1962-63 (Boston Celtics)
1963-64 (Boston Celtics)
Hagan Cliff 1953-54 1957-58 (St. Louis Hawks)
Dan Swartz 1951-52 1962-63 (Boston Celtics)
Pat Riley 1966-67 1971-72 (Los Angeles Lakers)
Larry Steele 1970-71 1976-77 (Portland Pioneers)
Kevin Grevey 1974-75 1977-78 (Washington Bullets)
Rick Robey 1977-78 1980-81 (Boston Celtics)
Prince Tayshaun 2001-02 2003-04 (Detroit Pistons)
Nazr Mohammed 1997-98 2004-05 (San Antonio Spurs)
Anthony Walker 1995-96 2005-06 (Miami Heat)
Derek Anderson 1996-97 2005-06 (Miami Heat)
Rajon Rondo 2005-06 2007-08 (Boston Celtics)
2019-20 (Los Angeles Lakers)
Jodie Meeks 2008-09 2018-19 (Toronto Raptors)
Anthony Davis 2011-12 2019-20 (Los Angeles Lakers)
Jamal Murray 2015-16 2022-23 (Denver)

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