Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
Noticing a lot of criticism going Christian Watford's way for "not showing up" in big games. I decided to take a deeper look into if that is actually a legitimate critique.
I'm getting the impression that Chrisitan Watford has become a bit of a scapegoat for games in which Indiana struggles or has cold streaks in general. Watford was a virtual no show against North Carolina and struggled mightily in the Butler game this Saturday. It feels to me that Hoosiers fans are looking for individuals to blame for some slow points in games and Watford is the name that keeps coming up. So I would guess that a lot of Hoosiers would be surprise to hear the statement Christian Watford is a better player through 10 games this year than he was all last year.
First of all, why do people think Christian Watford is struggling? First and foremost, the eye test tells us he really isn't making much of an impact on the floor. He's missing shots close to the basket, he isn't scoring in large volumes and on runs like he did in years past and he certainly seems to have the knack to disappear at times. Just sitting down and watching a game one would think that is the issue. However, Watford's ability to do the little things has made major strides this year. So much so that him being on the court still greatly benefits the team as a whole.
Never mind the potential of Watford being on the court. Certainly his shooting has dropped a bit this season, but he has the potential to still do those one man army 10 point runs on his own but also has improved on off the ball statistics. On the season, Watford is averaging .13 more points per possession than he was last year. That is a ~10% increase in when the ball ends with action from Watford (whether made basket, turnover, assist or defensive rebound). Where is that jump in efficiency coming from? Watford is currently getting to the line more than anyone else but Cody Zeller.
As things currently stand of Watford's 12 points a night on average a third of it is coming from the free throw line. He hits as many free throws a night as shots from the field. So his offensive production is somewhat hidden at the line. Something Cody Zeller actually does a lot of too. You just happen to notice when he dunks the ball 3 times a night as well. Christian Watford's offensive putback goes unnoticed over the 40 minutes stretch.
Take away the point scoring argument and Watford has made even larger improvements to his overall game. Watford is currently on pace to grab two more rebounds than he did last year... in 300 less minutes. That's right, Watford is crashing the boards much harder than he ever did in his previous three years. The biggest knock against him was that he never showed initiative to go in and bang for rebounds. This year he is doing that. All while also keeping his turnover rate to a career low of 12.7%.
Really the only true knock on Watford as this season currently stands is he's abysmal on his putback attempts and long 2s. Hitting only 37.5% of two pointers is unacceptable for a guy that is expected to bang down low on the rebounds. If he finds that uptick and ability to finish better through contact (which he has done well but not great in the past) then he'll be back to the Christian Watford that stood out to everyone as a guy who has stepped up his game at the end of last year.
Really what this article is an attempt to do more than anything is to point out that Christian is very much a net positive on the floor. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have Watford's current season comparable to Matt Howard's senior season. Only Will Sheehey, Cody Zeller and Jordan Hulls are more efficient than him and that isn't a knock. It's a testament to how efficient this team has been all year.