Although Larry Bird told USA Today Sports that C.J. Watson was "the first guy I wanted" after taking back over the helm as the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations, at least one NBA analyst was, to put it lightly, not all that impressed by the signing. In July, during an on-air interview with 1070 the Fan, Indianapolis, Chris Sheridan, Editor-in-Chief of sheridanhoops.com, offered up a scathing critique of not only the Pacers' acquisition of Watson, but of C.J. Watson the professional basketball player, by stating the following:
"I watched C.J. Watson play a lot for Brooklyn as well, and he ain't all that good, okay? I'll just put it that way.
He's a mediocre NBA point guard. He can give you maybe 12 good minutes a night but he's not as fast as D.J. Augustin is. He's maybe a little bit better of a shooter, but he's not what you call a very good shooter. He's a plug-in guy and he's expendable.
If the Indiana Pacers want to become a super-elite team, and like I said, they're close - they're top two in the East right now - then the point guard position is the one place where they need the biggest upgrade."
According to the Indy Star, Watson goes by the nickname, Quietstorm, as a reminder to always let his actions speak louder than his words, and "make those actions so powerful they carry the force of a storm." Typically, this moniker seems to epitomize the ever-professional, mild-mannered C.J. Watson that fans observe regularly at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, or via Fox Sports Indiana. However, after being described, in not so many words, as average, slow, and dispensable, the Pacers' freshly signed reserve point guard took to social media to vent his frustration, by tweeting:
Not very good, expendable and streaky huh. I'm a make u eat ur words!!!!— C.J. Watson (@Quietstorm_32) July 13, 2013
Now, of course, hindsight is 20-20, but, at the midpoint of the NBA season, it does not appear that the addition of C.J. Watson, in lieu of some other unnamed "upgrade," has prevented the Pacers from achieving "super-elite" status. In fact, as most know, through 48 games, the Pacers, at 38-10, boast the best record in the NBA.
Nevertheless, outside of the team's success, can it be said that Watson has made his critics eat their words?
Well, at the most basic level, Watson is averaging more points, rebounds, and steals than D.J. Augustin did during his tenure as a Pacer. Sheridan, in his critique, also postulates that C.J. is "not as fast" as the Pacers' prior back-up guard. Now, admittedly, there is no way to actually clock and compare both players' foot speed; however, usage of advanced statistics can shed some light on Sheridan's claims. Per NBA.com/stats, Watson, as a Pacer, posts a pace, number of possessions per 48 minutes, of 97.25. That figure is higher than Augustin's pace, both as a Pacer (92.87) and in his newfound and expanded role with the Chicago Bulls (93.26). Therefore, at the very least, it is safe to say that Watson has already proved his critics wrong with regard to his supposed lack of quickness.
But, what about Sheridan's claim describing Watson's production as expendable?
First and foremost, it is difficult to know if he is, in fact, dispensable without knowing what other players the Pacers could have replaced him with at the point guard position. If Sheridan is theorizing about a trade and/or player acquisition for a multi-year All-Star, then, of course, the Pacers could probably get by without him. That being said, with the team's limited cap space and other available back-ups in mind, it is entirely possible that the Pacers could not have done any better than C.J. Watson.
Consider for a moment that early on during the Pacers' preseason, Frank Vogel had already formulated a positive opinion of the team's new reserve, telling the Indy Star that Watson had been "a bright spot" for the team. Since the Global Games, Watson has consistently contributed solid minutes for the Pacers. Through the team's first 48 games, C.J. has already scored in double-figures on nine separate occasions. It took D.J. Augustin 64 games to achieve that same feat for the Pacers.
Watson's impact off the bench for the Pacers is further highlighted when observing some of the team's top 5-man combinations over the past two seasons. The Pacers' most used "bench" combination this season has included C.J. Watson, Lance Stephenson, Danny Granger, Luis Scola, and Ian Mahinmi. According to basketball-reference, in approximately 152 minutes of court time together, that unit is already net +7.8 points per 100 possessions (Note: net points per 100 possessions is the difference when opponent points are subtracted from team points). On the surface, that number may not seem overwhelming, but it becomes quite impressive when compared to the output of last year's bench. In comparison, D.J. Augustin, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, and Ian Mahinmi posted a mark of -13.4 points per 100 possessions.
Also consider that when Augustin was paired with the starters last season, that group was -11.7 points per 100 possessions. Compare that figure to when George Hill is replaced by Watson in the starting line-up. In 76 minutes of play this season, that five-man unit is +5.2 points per 100 possessions. Most impressively, when Watson gets court time with Stephenson, George, Scola, and Hibbert, that combination is a whopping +34.7 points per 100 possessions.
Freshly after inking his new contract with Indiana this past offseason, Watson pledged his willingness to do what is best for the team, by telling Pacers.com, "I'll do whatever this team wants me to do, whatever coach wants me to do."
Not unlike his nickname, his actions have more than backed up his commitment to the Pacers thus far this season.
For instance, recall that when George Hill was forced to sit briefly due to injury, Watson answered the call and contributed to the team's 3-0 record during the hometown hero's absence.
Even so, it could be argued that Watson has been at his best when it is winning time. When querying basketball-reference for the Pacer with the highest field goal percentage in the fourth quarter, the results yield none other than C.J. Watson. In the final frame of contests, Watson's "quiet" demeanor transforms into an impactful "storm" as he shoots a team-leading 49.5% from the field. Few have probably forgotten that it was storm C.J. that jump started the Pacers victory against the Bobcats by raining down five threes in the fourth quarter and scoring a game high 18 points.
After that impressive performance in Charlotte, Frank Vogel uttered a few simple statements that accurately tell the tale of Watson's brief, yet effective tenure with the Pacers, telling the Indy Star:
"Just a solid player. He's reliable in a league where some guys are not reliable."
Admittedly, it has been downright cringe worthy to watch some of the Pacers' old faces in new places produce at a seemingly "reliable" level that was never seen in Indianapolis. D.J. Augustin now averages 14.0ppg for the Bulls. Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green now combine for 23.1ppg while donning Suns uniforms - that total is more than Jeff Ayres (Pendergraph), Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin, and Miles Plumlee averaged combined for the Pacers last season.
Yet, as frustrating as those numbers may seem, many of those reserves were never comfortable in their roles while in Indiana. Now, Augustin, Plumlee, and, at times, Green, enjoy starters' minutes in new systems, while Watson continues to pledge his willingness to do "whatever" his team requires. Steadfastly, he has contributed solid, reliable, and effective minutes in the same role that has been the hallmark of his NBA career - playing as an impactful reserve.
Whatever the case, it seems that Sheridan's depiction of Watson's tenure with the Pacers was, to say the least, inaccurate. C.J. may not wow fans with the gaudy stat-lines that the league's elite point guards record, but he does contribute exactly what the Pacers' employed him to do - upgrade the bench. He posts a faster pace than Augustin, he has positively impacted several five-man combinations' net points per 100 possessions, and he is the Pacers' most efficient shooter in the fourth quarter.
Now, it still remains to be seen whether the Pacers will regret not choosing to upgrade the point guard position. Nevertheless, it should be near to certain that they will not second-guess their decision to add C.J. Watson. Therefore, perhaps, Watson should not be looked at as "expendable," but rather as a quality addition to a team that is by all indicators already "super-elite."