Watford is a much better player when he gets to do this, than when he is backing defenders down. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Christian Watford – Senior
Shades Valley High School – Birmingham, Alabama
6'9" – 225 lbs.
Christian Watford coming out of high school was ranked variously by the three big recruiting companies. According to Rivals use the number 34 player in the 2009 class, ESPN the 26th and Scout the 72nd. So depending on who you ask Watford was anywhere from great to very very good as a prospect. Through his first two years at Indiana has definitely shown some of that potential. As a senior he averaged 25 points 13 rebounds and was a state All-Star.
When he got to Indiana he was expected to contribute immediately. He responded well in that aspect as the finished his freshman year as the top scoring freshman in the Big Ten (12 points, 19th overall). He also finished as top freshman in rebounding and 11th overall with six rebounds a game and shot .800 on his free throws. The biggest downside to season was his defense which was echoed again and his sophomore season, but has a lot to do with him playing out of position due to personnel problems.
As a sophomore he showed drastic improvement despite being hampered by a hand injury that caused him to miss a few games and handle the ball poorly for the second half of the season. He averaged 16 points a game last year and increased his free throw percentage to .843. The best part of his game, is his uncanny ability to draw fouls and get to the line. He was able to do all of this all the while playing out of his natural position. He's been forced to play and defend a lot of power forward, when his more natural position is around the perimeter. Despite the height of 6'9" he really lacks the strength to battle with some of the bigger players in the Big Ten. That also affected his scoring last year as he had to play with his back to the basket, when by far he is most capable when he is facing up and playing outside-in.
With the arrival of a true center/power forward in Cody Zeller, I expect Christian Watford to reap the most benefits. I imagine we will see a bump in scoring again this year as he is allowed attacked the basket against mismatched defenders and draw even more fouls. Watford is expected to be the leading scorer on the team this season and really step up as a defender as well. With Zeller and Pritchard now playing the major roles in the front court, Watford can focus on the game that he is best playing. Add in a healthy hand and his shooting percentage from inside the arc should improve.
In the end, Watford should be the major contributor that everyone expects him to be. He will have quite the jump from his sophomore and junior year that he had from his freshman to sophomore year, but I expect him to have a season that will have him considering entering the draft by the end of the season. I think it is reasonable to put him at 19 points a game and six rebounds a game to go with a much improved defense. A first-team All Big Ten selection and a late first round selection in the NBA draft (currently projected as a late second rounder) are my expectations. I know that seems high and probably a bit too optimistic but that is what he's capable of when put in a better position to succeed with the correct role players around him. Think Kawhi Leonard with a couple less rebounds but a couple more points per game.