Anton Watson was probably the most polarizing player on the court for Gonzaga this season. Some fans never saw what they wanted from him. Other fans loved his defensive effort and energy and thought he should play more minutes. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Watson started 17 of the first 18 games this season coming off a shoulder injury that ruined his freshman year. Eventually, Andrew Nembhard took that starting spot, and Watson went from 21 minutes a game to 15 minutes a game.
The Spokane native had stretches all season long where he looked like the most impactful player on the court. He scored 23 points against Portland. He had 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals against Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. When he was benched early in the season against Northwestern State, he responded with two double-figure performances and seven steals. He threw down this monster dunk at the end of the Pepperdine game in Malibu:
ANTON WATSON WITH THE HAMMER pic.twitter.com/QQPBsV2DoZ— Steven Karr (@SKarrG0) January 31, 2021
And therein lies the question: How does Gonzaga get that version of Anton Watson to play all the time? Because it’s clearly in him. When he plays angry and aggressive, he has an NBA-level ceiling. He finished the season shooting 71.1 percent from inside the arc, the second best clip in Gonzaga history. I think that’s what made some fans so frustrated this season is seeing those flashes of brilliance from Watson one game and then the next game he would seemingly be a non-factor.
Next year, if Watson can be the X-Factor every night, Gonzaga could find themselves playing in the National Title once again. It’ll be his third year in the program. Nobody else on next year’s roster will have been there longer. He and Drew Timme are the elder statesmen.
Watson’s role will likely be very similar to this season. He has the chance to play anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on his development. His defensive game is currently his strength. He has the best hands on the roster, his instincts are good, and he is in the right spot more often than not. It’s his offense that has plenty of room to grow. We saw his post moves throughout the season. We’ve seen him rip-and-go from the mid-post. We’ve seen his ability to drive from the perimeter. Now he needs to put it all together consistently. If he does that, Gonzaga will have another lethal offensive weapon in a roster that could be full of them.
I liken these last six months to a freshman year for Watson. His true freshman season was completely wiped out by injury. So now it’s time for that sophomore jump that so many players take. With a full offseason to develop instead of rehab, Watson will be ready to explode when November rolls around.