Last September when I wrote Anton Watson’s player preview, I finished with this sentence: “In an ideal world, Watson will be a main contributor off the bench this season and then become a star next year before bolting to the NBA. He has all the tools to make this a reality.”
Unfortunately, a season-ending shoulder injury limited his production as a freshman. But the tools remain there to be an NBA talent, and possibly still as early as next summer. Anyone who has followed me knows that I, personally, think Watson is likely the biggest x-factor on this roster.
You saw glimpses of what Watson can offer as a freshman. Instead of regurgitating it all here, just read what I wrote in April and then come back here for more fun with numbers.
Anton Watson @twonster4080 took advantage of his minutes as a freshman with @ZagMBB. The future looks bright at Gonzaga.— Next Ones (@NXT1S) June 17, 2020
6'8" forward, 5.2 ppg and 3.3 rpg
Watch his full 19-20 highlights: https://t.co/Hs8CIVDd5L pic.twitter.com/S5TbFxQW6g
With his injuries, all analytics surrounding him are based on small sample sizes and weaker opponents through no fault of his own. But they are still eye-opening. Gonzaga’s defensive efficiency when Watson was on the court last season was an incredible 77.2 (points per 100 possessions). That’s not just the best number on the team by a wide margin, but the best number in the entire nation of any player that played at least 300 possessions. That’s what he brings to the table defensively. His combination of quickness, athleticism, and anticipation are unmatched by anyone else on the roster.
Last season, Watson and Drew Timme were on the court together for 150 possessions. The Bulldogs scored 1.34 points per possession and gave up just 0.65, which means those two together had an overall efficiency of +0.69 points per possession. In other words, if they played 30 possessions together in a game, Gonzaga would be +20 on the scoreboard.
Again, small sample sizes are fun to play with... but here’s a comparison that could make you more excited. You know who else played just 150 possessions together? Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie. Their overall efficiency was just 0.53 points per possession. Watson and Timme had the highest of any Gonzaga pair of the last four seasons. If both take the jump everyone anticipates, that’s a lethal front court.
If Watson is at full health, and it sounds like he is, he adds another dynamic layer to an already loaded roster. He didn’t shoot the ball beyond the arc with a ton of confidence last season, but if he does that this year, it opens up driving lanes for the guards and the paint for Timme to go to work. With the amount of talent coming in and hype around certain returning players, Watson got lost a bit in the shadows to some people. But make no mistake, he could have the biggest impact on the team’s success.