Pacers 2009-10 Player Review: Earl Watson

Earl Watson

#2 / Guard / Indiana Pacers

Following a career year as the starting point guard for the Supersonics in 2007-08, Earl Watson entered the following season as the newly christened starting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead of first round pick Russell Westbrook. Following P.J. Carlesimo’s firing, Scott Brooks pulled Watson from the starting role after the team’s 1-16 start with him as the starter as Watson shot a paltry 33% and averaged well below his career year averages the previous season.

As the Thunder began to flourish (so to speak) under Westbrook, Watson’s season suffered and limped to a close. The Thunder opted to waive him and focus on building their youth, making Watson a free agent. Meanwhile, in Indiana, Jarrett Jack had closed out the 2008-09 season strong, playing a glue role as the Pacers stormed to the season’s finish. The Raptors, looking to make a splash in hopes of keeping Chris Bosh around past the season’s end offered the restricted free agent a 4 year deal the Pacers weren’t willing to match.

A week later, Earl Watson was signed to a one year contract to fill in the PG void left by Jack. Ideally, it made sense, a veteran guard in a redemption year backing up T.J. Ford, also in what was to be a redemption year (we should probably revise that thought). Watson may have been the backup, but he made a great first impression, scoring his season high 20 points in the opener against Atlanta. Watson would go on to have a series of up and down games before Ford’s benching promoted Watson into the starting lineup in mid-December.

While Watson’s contributions as a starter had little change in the wins and losses, he provided a much needed perspective for the Pacers: they needed an answer at the PG, and Watson’s pass first game did its best wake up the anemic Pacers offense. Watson played out the rest of the season as the primary starter, recording one of his two double doubles in a much needed early February win against Jarrett Jack and the Raptors.

During the dark Western road trip in early March, Earl Watson played a huge part in giving the Pacers some fighting spirit, as he and Channing Frye found themselves amidst an altercation in Phoenix, which led to a spirited (losing) effort for the Pacers. Watson’s play escalated from that event, as did the team’s. Suddenly, the offense was moving the ball under Watson, the team was making the extra pass, and Watson proved to be the catalyst, once again confirming the need for a long term answer for a pass first PG.

Like most of the Pacers, Watson’s season provided a healthy dose of highlights and lowlights. Watson proved to be a professional following his demotion in Oklahoma City which led to a welcome promotion in Indiana. The Earl Watson Redemption Tour appeared to be a success. It’s hard to be upset with what Watson gave the team.

So how did Watson impress?

Watson’s game was rarely flashy, but his court vision proved to be the best of any player on the team. Watson’s assist numbers were down per average, but they were more than enough to double the team’s second leading passer, T.J. Ford. Watson also led the team in steals. The final month of Watson’s season proved to be the highlight, averaging 9.1/2.9/6.7 to close out his year on a high note. Watson also provided a lift to the team when starting, finishing the year 23-27 as the Pacers starter, including the leading the team to their 12-7 finish following the Phoenix game.

And how did Watson disappoint?

Very little of what Watson did in disappointing had to do with him under-performing. Generally, he played to his ability for a large portion of the season and deserves to be commended for that. Basically, the problem arises in that Watson was the team’s starting PG for a majority of the season. Watson’s production as a starter weren’t much better than his production as a bench player. His game was not and never will be good enough to make him a valuable asset to a quality team. You can fully expect an Earl Watson led team to finish 32-50. Even despite a strong finish under his guidance, a late season finish is certainly little worth getting excited about in the long term when you know what you have in someone.

Despite Watson’s generally smart play, he also tended to get a little overzealous when matched up against a quality opponent. When beaten on the defensive end, Watson would often try and force things on the opposite end the very next play, in an attempt to make up for being beaten. This led to mixed results as one would expect from a career backup going up against an all-star.

Well, what’s next for Watson?

As the season was winding down, it was very clear that Watson was going to be getting a serviceable contract with someone to play for them outside of Indiana. While this should still be the focus regarding Watson, the recent injury to A.J. Price opens up the possibility of Watson returning if the team cannot find a suitable replacement for Price or Ford. Watson made $3 million to play for the Pacers, and earned every cent of it. He’s certainly due to make a larger contract, a lengthier contract.

While I have little reason to doubt Watson’s work ethic, it’s certainly not in the Pacers best interest to sign him longer than a year if they do want to bring him back to fill in the grand canyon at PG, but how would Watson feel to being slighted into another one year deal when he played well enough to earn a longer job? Generally, it’s best to expect Watson to not return, but it’s impossible to close the book on him as a Pacer given the current situation. It’ll take the summer to pan out, let’s hope whatever happens is in the best interest of Earl Watson and the Pacers.

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