Friar Basketball

Will Nate Watson Take the Next Step?

Watson vs Xavier BET

It didn’t take Nate Watson long to prove he could score at the college level.

In his first collegiate game Watson made 4-5 shots from the field against Houston Baptist and grabbed six boards in just 17 minutes. Three days later came his Dunkin Donuts Center debut in an early season challenge versus then-#14 Minnesota.

Against a big Gopher frontcourt, the Friar freshman made five of his seven shots from the field and scored 12 points off of the bench.

 

Scoring certainly wasn’t an issue for Watson in year one, who was named Big East All Rookie at season’s end. He averaged nearly seven points per game in just 13 minutes, while shooting .595 from the field.

The advanced numbers are even more favorable on the offensive end. Watson ranked in the 77th percentile nationally in post-up situations (.943 points per possession), in the 87th in converting pick and rolls, and in the 92nd when scoring off of offensive rebounds.

When Nate had the ball near the rim it was most likely going in, where short hooks and turnarounds were often his weapons of choice.

What kept Watson from seeing even more time a year ago may have been his work on the glass (1.9 rebounds per game), and growing pains on the defense end and in moving the ball (4 assists total on the season).

February is when we’ve seen freshmen begin to blossom under Ed Cooley (see: Bentil, Ben), and Watson showed signs of becoming more of a physical presence in late February and early March.

RANKING WATSON’S BEST GAMES OF 2017-18

March 9: Big East Tournament Semifinals vs. Xavier: It’s hard to find many flaws in Watson’s game on this night. With the Friars needing a physical statement in the first half he provided it, and when PC came surging back from 17 points down the freshman pushed them toward the finish line with a second half scoring spurt.

Watson was never more of a presence on both sides of the ball. Xavier was bullying Providence early until Watson swung violently at a pair of Musketeer shots at the rim. A message was sent in the process: the Friars weren’t going away without a fight.

With PC trailing by eight with under ten minutes left they went to Watson on three straight possessions in the post, and he scored on all three. In a season in which his minutes fluctuated (he played just 4 in the Big East Quarters against Creighton), Watson was on the floor for 28 minutes and shot 5-6 from the field and 4-6 at the free throw line. PC went on to win an overtime thriller over the tournament’s top seed.

 

February 24 at Georgetown: Playing close to home, Watson was key in a narrow road victory over the Hoyas. Talk about assertive, he matched his season high of 11 field goal attempts in just 18 minutes on the floor (making six) to go along with three blocks and two steals.

He finished in a variety of ways in this one — throwing down a lob, beating men up the floor, finishing short hooks in the paint, through contact for an and-1, and off of cuts.

 

December 17 vs. Stony Brook: The Friars were struggling in December. In their previous four games before Stony Brook came to the Dunk, they snuck by Rider, were beaten fairly soundly at URI, defeated Brown in overtime, and loss at UMass.

Providence avoided a loss to a middle of the pack America East team in large part to Watson. He scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting in just 18 minutes.

In the video below, each of Watson’s buckets come with PC either trailing or tied, including in the final three minutes when Providence went to him on back-to-back possessions.

 

December 31 at Creighton: On sheer offensive output, this was Watson’s biggest game — 20 points on 7-11 from the field and 6-7 at the free throw line in 20 minutes.

He kicked of conference play with 38 points in Providence’s first three games, which included a road win at St. John’s and an overtime loss to Marquette.

This game would be ranked higher had Creighton not run away with it in the second half.

 

November 25 vs. Boston College: Less than a month into his freshman campaign, Watson put up a pair of solid games against long-time Friar rivals.

BC was within shouting distance until Watson scored on three possessions mid-way through the second half — a jump hook, another hook in which he scored after being fouled, then a loud tip dunk to close out the outburst.

After the win over BC, Watson shot 4-4 from the field at URI. He finished the two rivalry games 7-7 from the field and scored 19 points.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

Much of the positivity surrounding the 2018-19 campaign is based on Watson’s potential. In Watson, Alpha Diallo, and the returning Emmitt Holt, Providence has three well above average options to chose from in post-up situations.

Cooley has gone to Diallo on the block often in key situations early in his career, and he trusted Watson enough last season to play through him in a can’t-lose game against Stony Brook and during PC’s surge on a much bigger stage in the Big East semis.

Watson showed more than a few encouraging signs as a freshman. The short hook over his left shoulder was very consistent, and he flashed the ability to score over his opposite shoulder as well. For a young big man who rarely took a face-up jumper, Watson was a solid free throw shooter (just below 70%).

The moment never seemed too big for him. Minnesota fell apart after they played Providence last season, but they had a terrific interior duo and Watson shot an efficient 5-7 in his Dunk debut. Some of his best work came away from home — in the Big East Tournament, at Creighton, at URI, and at Georgetown.

After scoring nearly seven points per night while playing just 13 minutes per, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him develop into a double digit scorer with additional minutes. Nearly 1,000 field goal attempts opened up with graduations of Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, and Jalen Lindsey, and Watson is expected to be a big part of filling the void.

When he does begin to emerge as a consistent interior scorer, opposing coaches may force the ball out of his hands — especially with questions surrounding Providence’s outside shooting. Effectively navigating and passing out of double teams will be a critical next step in Watson’s development.

Listed at 6’10, 260 pounds, Watson has the great size to match above average athleticism. If he can become more of a glass cleaner in addition to an offensive focal point, we could be looking at one of the best big men in the Big East, as early as this upcoming season.

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

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