Friar Basketball

How Did Nate Watson’s Knee Impact his Junior Year?

Watson SJU

On the surface, there wasn’t a massive statistical drop-off in Nate Watson’s game last season. Watson was expected to be one of the top centers in the Big East as a junior in 2019-20, and was one of 20 players nominated for the 2020 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award by the Naismith Hall of Fame in the preseason.

A knee injury forced Watson out of virtually all of Providence’s October practices, as well as exhibition play, and the team’s first four games of the season. He returned strong by making six of seven shots from the field in his debut against Merrimack, but Watson did not enjoy the breakout junior season many had predicted.

There were a lot of mouths to feed on last year’s roster, which led to numbers being down somewhat for a number of players, but it is fair to question if the knee that slowed Watson early was an impediment throughout the season.

Watson’s points per game went from 11.7 as a sophomore to 9.0 as a junior, while his rebounding numbers dipped from 5.2 to 4.6. In conference games he went from 12.5 points a night to 8.6 from his sophomore to junior seasons. Of course, some of that can be attributed to fewer minutes (23.5 per game as a sophomore to 18.9 last year), but a deeper look at the numbers may reveal more.

Let’s look at Watson in different situations. He had 132 post up possessions as a junior, compared to 178 as a sophomore and 87 as a freshman. His points per possession in post up opportunities went from .943 as a frosh (77th percentile nationally) to .978 as a sophomore (83rd) to .765 as a junior (42nd). That’s a pretty significant drop for a player who scored with great efficiency from the post from the time he stepped foot on campus.

The number of opportunities he had on cuts to the basket dipped from 66 to 37 last year, while his points per possession fell from 1.409 as a sophomore (88th) to 1.189 (58th).

Perhaps most telling was his usage in transition. Watson never had high usage on the break — 20 possessions as a freshman and 24 as a sophomore — but that number dropped all the way to just four possessions during his junior season. Could that be a sign of a big man who had more trouble getting up and down the floor?

Overall, Watson went from scoring on 55.9% of his possessions as a sophomore to scoring on 47.5 his junior year. He was at 55.5% as a freshman.

He was awarded free throws on 21.1% of his possessions in year one, 23.8% sophomore year, and 19.2% last season.

Watson was sidelined for eight weeks after his knee injury, with Ed Cooley noting that Watson was playing himself into shape during the season. This isn’t to say last season was a wash for Watson — he was Providence’s best player in a loss to Villanova at the Dunk on Jan. 25 (18 points, 9 rebounds), went toe-to-toe with Tyrique Jones and Xavier in Cincinnati (8-13 from the floor), and closed the season with an 18 point, eight rebound effort versus DePaul. There was a five game stretch from late January to early February in which Watson scored in double figures in four of five games (and he had nine points in the fifth).

Still, Watson was playing catch up for at least a good portion of last season. His numbers should jump as a senior. Watson is Providence’s only big man who has gone through the Big East battles, shot opportunities and minutes will open up with the departure of last year’s massive senior class, and he won’t be finding his wind mid-season.

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