5 Changes The Brooklyn Nets Must Make

Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez

3. Stop Pretending C.J. Watson Is A Traditional Point Guard

C.J. Watson’s assist rate is lower than Joe Johnson’s. It’s 63rd among qualifying point guards in the NBA. Outside of his two seasons in Chicago, that low assist rate of his would rank as a career high. He’s not a fancy NBA-level distributor by nature — he’s a shooter. And that’s the heart of this issue: C.J. Watson isn’t a point guard.

He’s one of the league’s worst at scoring out of the pick-and-roll, shooting 21% — yes, 21% — from the field in pick-and-roll situations, with a points-per-possession ranking in the bottom 12% of the NBA. He’s a shooting guard. Not in the traditional sense that we consider a “shooting guard” to be “a guard that’s somewhat bigger than point guards,” but as someone who plays off the ball, can hit open shots, runs the floor, and create occasionally off the dribble.

Watson has scored 1.138 points per possession spotting up — more than double his efficiency in the pick-and-roll, and in the top 14% of the NBA. He’s shot 46% from the corner 3 this year, a shot that almost always comes from playing off the ball. He’s similarly efficient coming off off-ball screens. The difference is night and day.

For all the talk of Deron Williams’s recent tear from beyond the arc, it’s still Watson that leads the team with a .397 conversion rate from deep, and his best shots come from plays just like this: hitting the break, getting ahead of his defender, waiting for the defense to lose him, and getting an open look created for him.

Note: I added that third play to show what the threat of Watson’s three-pointer can occasionally create for him inside the arc. He’s one of the team’s better shooters from midrange, though I’d prefer he shoot it less often (more on that later).

One other note: the two-PG lineup with Williams and C.J. Watson has struggled often this season, because the Brooklyn Nets force Watson into juggling distribution duties with Williams. But against Phoenix Sunday night, the Watson-Williams combo was a +14 in 12 minutes on the floor, partially because holy holy is that a small sample size, but also because Watson didn’t pretend to be the creator. Watson didn’t record an assist all game, and when sharing the floor with Williams, Watson only looked to shoot twice — both times in transition when he had a step on the defense — and drew two fouls:

This isn’t a bad thing. Watson is a skilled player — namely at shooting open threes and creating transition havoc — that can be maximized with the right lineups and the right situations. He’s a good enough “floor general” to let him play distributor in spot situations, usually combined with Joe Johnson in the bench mob. But the team falters by trying to fit him in the box. Don’t get stuck in the box, Brooklyn. Alter your system to maximize your talent, not the other way around.

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