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Watford Has Potential To Be Next Nets’ Development Model Picked Up Off The Street
With training camp less than two weeks away, let’s continue this forum’s theme of intriguing Nets pieces who could give the club an unexpected boost.
Many NBA experts believe a gem fell into Brooklyn’s lap in the form of big man Trendon Watford, who was waived by Portland this offseason, presumably to make room for TBD extra bodies from a trade of their disgruntled superstar guard Damian Lillard. Watford signed with the Nets for the veteran minimum, with just $200,000 guaranteed, per spotrac.com.
The Nets’ reversion to their pre-superstar model that emphasized player development seemingly makes Watford, just 22, a perfect fit. Like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris before him, Watford is another less-heralded (he went undrafted before originally signing on with Portland as a two-way player) flyer who could have a real opportunity to break out in Brooklyn.
Watford’s offensive skillset is fairly diverse for a 6-foot 8, 237-pound player after bringing his three-point efficiency up to 39.1% last season (albeit on only 64 attempts—his high during his two seasons at LSU was only 31.6%). ESPN’s Zach Lowe raved about his float game in one of his “10 Things” columns—per NBA.com, he shot 55% from mid-paint areas last season, which, for comparison purposes, was over 7 percent better than Nets starting center Nic Claxton and 11 percent over Ben Simmons’ best CAREER rate of 2022-23. Watford can also score at a decent clip out of the post to beat switches or by putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, though Blazeresedge.com noted that he was whistled for nine travelling violations, mostly from attacking closeouts off the catch, in 61 games.
The real challenge for Watford will be whether he can maintain his efficiencies on a team that doesn’t really have anyone who consistently forces help off the dribble. He knocked down 48% from deep when given at least six feet of room, per NBA.com, but made only 1-of-13 of his 3s when guarded more closely.
In this sense, playing Watford as a backup 5 could be a boon to Brooklyn’s offense, as his presence would allow for better floor spacing than when someone like Day’Ron Sharpe mans the middle. However, as is often the case when Head Coach Jacque Vaughn opts for small ball, there would be concerns over what the team gives up on the other end.
Watford is neither a strong enough rim protector nor a rebounder, where he’s more inclined to box out (not the worst thing) than be the springy ball hawk. Portland’s best defensive rebounding lineups last season came when the beefy Jusef Nurkic played center, including an impressive 80.6% retrieval rate in his 231 minutes with Watford as the 4, per NBA.com. For the record, Brooklyn ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams last season in defensive rebounding percentage at 68.9%, which then plummeted to a ghastly 63.2% in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs. From the above analysis, a Claxton/Watford pairing with, for instance, Dinwiddie, Bridges, and Cam Johnson could become one of Brooklyn’s best defensive rebounding lineups. Watford could be counted on to make the first hit, even if he doesn’t always come out with the ball. Watford at the 5? Well, we’ve been there.
As for Watford’s one-on-one defending, there is some divergence of conclusions between both those who rely on metrics and tape. For instance, Watford’s “switchability”, which we assume will continue to be crucial in Brooklyn until we see otherwise, was rated highly (98th percentile in “defensive matchup versatility”) by bball-index.com, yet NBA.com’s defensive dashboard had Watford allowing a 50.7% field goal percentage when deemed the closest defender, which was the third worst among Portland’s regulars. Again, for comparison purposes, Claxton, an elite defender, allowed 44.2%, the third-stingiest rate among all NBA centers who played more than 50 games. When looking at how Watford fared as the closest defender based on NBA.com’s listed matchups against certain types of players. Watford got the better of Oklahoma City star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Klay Thompson, and Jaylen Brown more often than not, but was roasted by Christian Wood, Jordan Clarkson, and Luka Doncic.
To be fair, many players struggle in certain matchups—you could look at the highly-regarded Simmons versus bigger assignments or Cam Johnson against quick attackers. Watford, according to the reports I’ve read, is a battler and a solid team defender who understands concepts such as helping the helper.
In general, he can be a winning player on both sides of the ball for 15-20 minutes off the bench. He seems to know how to play with or without the ball in his hands and values possessions.
I’d prefer if those minutes come at the 4, but with so many others on the Nets’ roster close to his size, it may prove difficult for Watford to see them, particularly early on as he acclimates himself to the program. Vaughn has to maneuver court time for not only returning players Johnson, Royce O’Neale, and Dorian Finney-Smith, but he also must quickly evaluate other newcomers directly competing with Watford like Darius Bazley, Harry Giles III, and rookies Dariq Whitehead, Noah Clowney, and Jalen Wilson.
May the best men win.
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