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2022-23 Player Review: Anton Watson

Breakout! An incredible season.

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If the Transfer Portal had been in place after his sophomore season, Anton Watson might have been gone. He’d lost his starting spot to Andrew Nembhard midseason and Chet Holmgren would force him to come off the bench as junior. He had incredible potential, but consistency issues had many wondering if he’d ever be a reliable full-time player.

Thankfully it wasn’t. Like Kelly Olynyk, Corey Kispert and Nembhard before him, his fourth year in the program would not only be his best, like them he took his game to another level. Potential realized.

Consistency issues? Anton was arguably the team’s most consistent player last season, only Drew Timme could possibly challenge him. He could always fill a stat sheet like few other players, but last season it happened in almost every game.

I remember listening to a poplar Gonzaga podcast back in October. The Anton Watson preview stated he would never be a double-digit per game scorer. Not an unreasonable prediction, given his first three seasons. Not only did he average 11.1 points per game last year, his 17 against Alabama, 18 against Santa Clara and BYU and the 20 he dropped on USF in the WCC Tournament were crucial to some of the team’s most noteworthy victories.

It’s not just what he scored, it’s how he scored. If his thunderous dunks weren’t game changers, they put the exclamation point on big victories:

Over the last 15 games of the season, Anton was eight of 18 from beyond the arc. That’s right, he shot 44% from deep during the most critical part of the season. He ended the year with an KenPom offensive rating of 125.6, good for 37th in the nation. For comparison, Zach Edey’s rating was 125.9, 33rd in the nation.

But concentrating praise on Anton Watson’s offense alone is like saying you love the Beatles because of the drumming (sorry Ringo). It might be pretty damn good and important, but you’re missing the big picture. Money, it’s gotta be the defense.

Name another player equally adept at shutting down Aiden Mahaney and Oscar Tshiebwe? Go back and watch a Santa Clara game to see Brandin Podziemski deflate when he turns the corner off a Bediako screen to meet Watson, someone faster with better lateral movement. I mentioned on my review last season how he is a rock in the post not giving an inch to larger players, this season he was just as successful shutting down the perimeter against the particularly troublesome guards.

I’m sure his snub as WCC Defensive Player of the Year and relegation to All-WCC Honorable mention along with Drew Timme being WCC Co-Player of the Year provided locker room bulletin board fodder. Hopefully it helped motivate the team through the WCC Tournament and to the Elite Eight

Oh yeah, his hands and timing are things of beauty. How often does your power forward lead the team in steals by an almost two to one margin over any other player?

I’m really going to miss the way he and Timme would feed each other in the post. Both are excellent passers and demonstrate a skill the two friends have developed from hours of practicing together.

Should Anton return, taking advantage of his extra season of COVID eligibility for a fifth year, it will be intriguing to see if he further develops his gain and is able to increase his confidence level. Further developing his outside shot, mid-range game and being able to create off the dribble will improve his prospects to spend time in the NBA. He said on the Timme podcast he has these skills but can’t demonstrate them because they currently don’t fit into the Few’s offense. They may next year.

Timme’s departure will leave a huge gap in the local NIL opportunities available. Being from Spokane, Anton could have a leg up on being the face of the Zags next season. Whatever he chooses, it’s been a real pleasure watching him develop and play these last four seasons.