C.J. Watson / Guard / Age 30
63 GP, 18.9 MP, 6.6 PTS, .437 FG%, .366 3P%, .784 FT%, 1.6 TRB, 1.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.0 TOV
2014/15 Contract Status: $2,077,000 - Fully guaranteed, second year of two year deal
Among Indiana's woeful bench production the past two seasons, C.J. Watson has to be the lone bright star and best bench piece the Pacers have had since the days George Hill came off the bench in the strike shortened 2011-12 season. Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi had their ups and downs, Danny Granger couldn't find his offense, and by the end of it, Evan Turner couldn't find playing time.
As a nation once turned its lonely eyes in search of Joltin' Joe, Pacers fans turned their eyes in search of someone off the bench that could keep the team from being a negative player every night. Watson was as close to that form as as Pacers fans saw last season. In 63 games, he reached double figures 12 times, second most of any player off the bench, and one of just three bench players to reach double figure points in double figure games for the Pacers.
Watson's acquisition paid off in full last season; he was a talented, veteran backup who knew his role and was eager to accept it and play it to its fullest, providing Indiana's bench a much needed spark on nights when he played well. During Indiana's scorching start to the season, he offered up key games, including a benchmark 15-point fourth quarter point performance on five three pointers against the Charlotte Bobcats. While that kind of explosion was rare, understandably so, he was still an invaluable piece of Indiana's second unit.
That's part of what made Watson's injury bug in early March so devastating for the Pacers. The Pacers were on a(n albeit shaky) five game winning streak heading in to March when a right elbow injury against Golden State sidelined Watson for a week. Once he returned, he went back to the bench with a hamstring injury that lingered until early April.
Watson wasn't the lone reason for Indiana's March struggles, though the team did go 7-12 in that time frame, but Indiana's struggles had every bit to do with Watson's absence as with any other reason the team fell into their March collapse. The Pacers had no means of scoring in March, and the lack of Watson's ability to get hot and get buckets sunk Indiana throughout his absence.
He proved that upon his return in the final week of the regular season, scoring 12.7 in three games, including 8-11 from three point range, scoring a season high 20 points in a late season win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the postseason, Watson struggled with consistency as much as the Pacers themselves did, but without much support from the bench, he was left with very little room for error, and it did play its role in costing Indiana an opportunity at defeating the Heat.
How did C.J. Watson impress?
Given Watson's exit from the Brooklyn Nets came on a missed dunk in Game 7 against Chicago, it was nice that no lingering effects seemed to hold him back in any way. As mentioned, he was one of just three bench players to reach double figures in 10 or more games. Luis Scola had 21 and Watson was second with 12, tying Danny Granger.
As well, Watson was one of only two bench players who was a net positive when on the floor. Watson was +1.5 in on/off splits this year (trailing only Granger), and Indiana was +5.4 with him on the floor, again, second among bench players. He was one of only four bench players to even post a positive for the team when on the floor, along with Granger (maybe it was a mistake to trade him after all?), Solomon Hill, and Ian Mahinmi.
Getting any kind of consistency off the bench was also a big positive for the Pacers, who touted their improved bench to only have Watson offer up any kind of pseudo-consistency.
How did C.J. Watson disappoint?
Given just how poorly Indiana's bench played this year, it's hard to look at Watson, a player who generally gave Indiana fans a positive vibe when he stepped on the floor, and feel the urge to criticize him. But Watson was hampered with staggeringly low assist numbers. For all the grief George Hill gets for his assist numbers, Watson, who averaged just 1.7 a game, which rounds out to a career worst 3.2 per 36 minutes, may have been just as much a cause of Indiana's bench struggles as he was a solution.
Indiana's system doesn't benefit individual assist numbers, but for a team that's so poor at offense, it does seem a bit of an issue when your point guards can't get you no-nonsense buckets that don't come from Watson pulling up a transition three and usually bricking it. It's something that is hopefully addressed by the Pacers for the 2014-15 season. It's not as if Watson is not a capable passer, he averaged 6.2 assists per 36 minutes while in Chicago, but a system that doesn't benefit or play to its players strengths could be one of the key reasons Indiana's bench has been a death wish the past two seasons.
What's next for C.J. Watson?
Watson will enter a contract year in 2014-15, expected to be Indiana's backup point guard into next season. With the bench needing a revamp yet again, it would seem counterproductive to not move forward with the one bench player the team could generally rely on, one that won't be a major cap problem this season at just $2 million.
Unless there's a vast improvement on the roster on the horizon that would require the need of Watson as a trade piece, it's seems unlikely that the Pacers would entertain not having Watson in a similar role to last year. Though, maybe a slight tweak may not be a bad idea? Watson is a good backup point guard because he realizes he's a backup point guard, but who else is a good bench player? George Hill?
Okay, so placing Watson as a starter for the same 18-20 minutes he currently plays, which would allow Hill to be more aggressive towards the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter with the bench (while still playing him as a piece at the end of games as well) would probably require too much in the way of ego sacrifice to ever happen, but with Watson, the Pacers do have rotation options should they be open to them.
How would you rate C.J. Watson's performance during the 2013-14 season? What do you see as some of his strengths and weaknesses moving forward with the Pacers?