Entering his fourth year in the program, Anton Watson knows what he must concentrate on. Here’s what he said about himself in a Spokesman-Review article: “I think for me, just staying consistent throughout the season. I had some times where I’d play really good, then some times I wouldn’t play as well. So I think just focusing on being consistent and getting in the gym every day. Getting shots up, I think, is the biggest thing for me and getting my confidence up. I think those are the biggest keys.”
“This will be his breakout season,” that’s been the Anton Watson season preview prediction for the past two years. The promise he showed his freshman season, before the shoulder injury, made Watson stock a strong buy. There have been flashes of greatness; double digit scoring and rebounding games, needle threading assists and pickpocketing opponents passes. There have also been cases where, despite good play, his offense just wasn’t there. Take the season ending loss to Arkansas; Anton had eight rebounds and only one point.
The pendulum swings of Anton’s offensive consistency are best illustrated by the extremes in his single game offensive ratings: In last season’s loss at St. Mary’s on 26 Feb, he had an offensive rating of 15.7. Twelve days later against the same St. Mary’s team in the WCC final, his offensive rating was 172.5. Two years ago, in the NCAA tournament against Norfolk State, he had a nearly perfect game with an offensive rating of 222.2. Two months earlier, again at Moraga, his offensive rating was “0” in 22 minutes played. He also had a “0” against UCLA last season. For comparisons sake, the lowest offensive ratings for his frontcourt mates last year were 71 for Timme and 73 for Holmgren.
A good argument could be made that citing offensive ratings isn’t the best way to measure Anton’s value to the team. After all, whenever he entered a game last year, he was usually the fifth scoring option. His 88.4 defensive rating over three seasons is the best stretch for any WCC player since 2010 and he and finished second in steals to Nembhard (51 to 40) despite playing approximately half Andrew’s minutes. He has to create his own shots, so offensive production is just a bonus, right?
While his value as defensive stopper or a “glue guy” whose contributions don’t always make the box score shouldn’t be minimized, I think it sells him short. Anton’s just a supremely talented basketball player with great instincts and court awareness. Remember, he led Gonzaga Prep to consecutive 4A State Championships, scored 33 in a championship final. He got as high at the 32 ranked player in the nation. In a 14-game stretch last mid-season, he averaged 10.6 points per game and shot 42% from deep. He can play.
Where and when he will play has been one on the off-season’s biggest questions. Few loves his game, he is a senior, so it’s logical he’d be the starter at the “4”. Equally logical is a “small ball” type line-up, so successful in 20-21, with Strawther starting at the “4” . In the latter case, Watson would again be the first big off the bench. I can also see him playing the “5” in a small line-up that would run opponents into the ground. With so many potential line-up options this, it may change several times before it’s finally settled.
I’ve read that Anton competes with Dom Harris as the best three-point shooter in practice. It’s time that skill translates to game play. It will better facilitate the high/low with Timme and keep him on the floor. As mentioned above, this year’s bench is too talented.
As stated in the opening paragraph, Anton is well aware of his shortcomings and where he needs to improve. Last summer, Anton accompanied Drew Timme to Texas to work on his game under the tutelage of professional trainer Tyler Ralph, This year, he entertained the idea of hopping over to Seattle to train with Nolan Hickman or traveling to Los Angeles to work out with Dominick Harris. Instead, he settled on “runs” at John Stockton’s Warehouse with current and former Zags and almost daily workout sessions with his father and brother.
If working out with your family doesn’t sound very challenging, you don’t know the Watson family. Anton’s father Deon was a four-year starter at the University of Idaho and is the school’s record holder for career rebounds, second in blocks. He also played 10 year of professional basketball, including five in Argentina. His brother Deon Jr., a 6’ 4” 225 lb. former Coeur d’Alene High football and basketball star, played four year of football at Idaho
I really hope this is Anton Watson’s year. If he can get 20 minutes per game, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year is a definite possibility. Let’s hope this year’s season preview prediction comes to fruition, this will be Anton Watson’s breakout year.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Anton’s Father, Deon Watson for accepting my phone call and talking with me about his son and basketball in general . I really enjoyed it.