When Christian Watford committed to Indiana University at the beginning of his senior year of high school in 2008, he dubbed himself Christian “LeagueBound” Watford on Facebook.
The Birmingham, Ala. native just might have been on to something.
Now a junior forward at Indiana, Watford has displayed tremendous progress from as recently as last season, enough so that fellow TSB contributor David Kay pegged him as the 21st pick in a 2013 NBA mock draft, the actual event occurring the summer after Watford’s graduation.
Is Watford really league-bound? And a first-round pick, at that?
At first glance, “C-Wat” certainly has the look of a NBA prospect. His size, 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, is prototypical of a small forward at the pro level.
Watford also can score — a must for just about any swingman in the NBA. He shouldered a considerable portion of the scoring load his freshman season in 2009-10, especially after fellow frosh Maurice Creek — who at the time was scoring as well as any freshman in the nation — suffered the first of several crushing injuries. Watford averaged approximately 12 points per game in his initial campaign and then led the Hoosiers in scoring as a sophomore, netting 16 points per game.
While his average has taken a small dip this season (12.5 points per game) as a result of freshman Cody Zeller’s presence (Dave has Zeller going eighth in his 2013 mock), Watford’s efficiency has continued to improve this season. His field-goal percentage is up to 43.6 percent from 42.2 percent last year.
Watford is as solid an option as any on Indiana’s squad to take an open pull-up jumper, but he also has become much more comfortable doing the little things for the Hoosiers. His one-on-one defense has improved tremendously; he often appeared too slow as an on-ball defender during his first two seasons in Bloomington and struggled with his defensive positioning within the context of a zone. The strides he has made this year are quite impressive — he helped reduce Kentucky’s Terrence Jones to nonfactor status in the Hoosiers’ still-epic home upset of the Wildcats (speaking of which, ESPN still replays Watford’s game-winning 3-pointer whenever it broadcasts an IU game).
I also find Watford’s increased willingness to attack the rim and draw the and-1 a plus for his pro aspirations. In some ways that willingness just generally comes with age — we find ourselves talking about how so-and-so should go to the rim all the time — but maybe with Watford it’s something bigger. He has done all the little things this year. He’s gone to the rim. He’s fought hard for defensive rebounds (leads the Hoosiers with 97). He’s gotten in the middle of opponents’ passes in transition and intercepted them, setting up his own team’s transition offense, one of the best in the nation. Watford has become comfortable in his role, and he has become quite a mature, game-changing player as a result.
While Watford’s footwork can improve, his lack of natural speed could hurt him in the NBA, or at least relegate him to bench status. Small forwards arguably are the most athletic and versatile players in the league, and C-Wat just seems to lack that extra step you see in guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and the like. For this reason, it’s unlikely that even with another year of college ball Watford could become a lottery pick. However, Dave’s prediction of 21st in the 2013 draft is perfectly reasonable — especially if Watford has a big senior season amidst the influx of talent the Hoosiers will undergo next year.