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The emergence of James Watson

A visual representation of James Watson's movement on the Cougar basketball depth chart. via <a href=""></a>
A visual representation of James Watson's movement on the Cougar basketball depth chart. via

Let me reintroduce myself to the community. Hi, my name is Craig.  In case you all forgot (and I wouldn't be surprised if you did) I am an author for this site, despite the fact that I haven't put up a post about the Cougs in what seems like a decade.  Please enjoy my thoughts on Washington State forward James Watson.

One of the worries for Cougar fans early in the non-conference schedule was the production coming out of the five spot when DeAngelo Casto sat on the bench.  It seemed that Charlie Enquist was Ken Bone's answer and Charlie was just not cutting it.  Even against low-major competition, Charlie was ineffective on offense (or as Kenpom puts it, "nearly invisible") and had trouble keeping up with stronger and faster big men.  During that time, it was clear that Enquist was getting minutes in favor of the obviously more athletic James Watson.  Many of you on this site wondered along with myself why that was the case.

Well, we got our wish and James has been getting the minutes.  All his play has done is keep us wondering what took so long.

Watson's story this year has been an interesting one.  He suffered not one, but two head injuries in preseason practice.  There was some concern that his career was headed towards the Stephen Sauls route.  Luckily, those fears were put to rest as James was ready to play by the second game.  His role was limited to foul trouble and mop-up minutes until the Kansas State game.  In that game he put up an impressive stat line, going 3-3 from the field and pulling down three boards. He was poised to take over as Casto's primary backup.  Then...  (Click the jump to read on)

He plays two minutes against Idaho and is a no-show for Air Force.

Luckily, the last four games have seem him play solid minutes and he has produced very well in that time.  His ORtg so far this season is at 137.0, he rarely turns the ball over, rebounds on both ends of the floor (very good 17.4 offensive rebounding percentage), and uses 16.7% of the possessions.  That last number is important because Enquist was using 8.5% of the possessions, and a lot of those were turnovers.  James gives the Cougs one more finisher on the floor that they did not have in the first few games of the year.

On top of the statistical observations, I was able to take a look at the Oregon (why I did that to myself, I have no idea) and the Oregon State games thanks to the magic of digital video recording. In those contests, Watson uses his speed advantage over bigger opponents to get out and run in the open floor.  On several occasions he got some easy buckets or free throws simply because he was on the break with the little guys and made himself available.  He also is very confident in taking the mid-range jumper, hopefully it will consistently fall.  I'm guessing by the way he shoots it without hesitation that he has that ability.

One more interesting note is that Bone used him a few times in offense-defense substitutions to get him along side Casto on the defensive end.  It would be nice if that could happen more often, but the lack of height on this team doesn't really allow for that.  Don't expect to see a Casto/Watson combo on the floor for significant stretches.

James has got the athleticism and height to be an effective backup for the Cougs this year.  His toughest matchups physically will be Michael Dunigan from Oregon and Alex Stepheson from USC, and he performed decently against Dunigan.  He is disciplined and doesn't seem to go for the big block all that often (even though he was pegged as a "shot blocker" out of high school, which is of course code for "tall, athletic kid with little offensive game").  He has some nice tools and should be a solid player in years to come with a little polish (remember, he is only a freshman), but his contributions so far give Bone and his staff a nice option when DeAngelo needs a breather or gets into foul trouble. 

Let's hope he sticks in the rotation this time.  He can finish, rebound, and  he runs the break (with a point guard like Moore, he will definitely get some easy buckets if he keeps doing that).  Washington State will definitely be better with James Watson filling those reserve minutes and he could emerge the way Casto did last season and have some big games by season's end.