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Lichtenstein: Trendon Watford could be big development prize for Nets

HSS Training Center is a place where fallen angels, diamonds in the rough and the underappreciated gather. Steve Lichtenstein thinks Trendon Watford is one who can contribute.

If you are looking for the most low-key addition in an off-season of low-key addition, Trendon Watford, the 6’9” big the Nets signed to a non-guaranteed veterans minimum deal in early August.

Watford had been surprisingly waived by the Blazers at the beginning of free agency, perhaps their first move in preparing for an unbalanced return in a Damian Lillard trade. Even Woj seemed surprised...

Here’s some video from a game late last season...

No matter why, the Nets liked what they had seen from Watford, apparently as did others. He won’t get any money guaranteed — and then only $200,000 — until he makes the roster on October 23, the last day of waivers before opening night. He might even be a candidate for the last two-way, depending on how goes the competition among him, Darius Bazley and Harry Giles III, the two other bigs in camp without a guaranteed deal.

This weekend, Steve Lichtenstein identified Watford as a candidate for relevance this season, even elevating him to the same level achieved with the development success of Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, two of the team’s greatest development successes.

The Nets’ reversion to their pre-superstar model that emphasized player development seemingly makes Watford, just 22, a perfect fit. Like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris before him, Watford is another less-heralded (he went undrafted before originally signing on with Portland as a two-way player) flyer who could have a real opportunity to break out in Brooklyn.

Other than the two first round picks in the June Draft and third year players Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe, Watford is the next youngest player on the roster at 22. He’s five days younger than Jalen Wilson, the Nets second rounder. Indeed, there are plenty of data points that might portray some future success, Lichtenstein argues.

Watford’s offensive skillset is fairly diverse for a 6-foot 8, 237-pound player after bringing his three-point efficiency up to 39.1% last season (albeit on only 64 attempts—his high during his two seasons at LSU was only 31.6%). ESPN’s Zach Lowe raved about his float game in one of his “10 Things” columns—per, he shot 55% from mid-paint areas last season, which, for comparison purposes, was over 7 percent better than Nets starting center Nic Claxton and 11 percent over Ben Simmons’ best CAREER rate of 2022-23. Watford can also score at a decent clip out of the post to beat switches or by putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, though noted that he was whistled for nine travelling violations, mostly from attacking closeouts off the catch, in 61 games.

There are issues with his game, Lichtenstein admitted, like a lack of efficiency when not given a lot of space.

The real challenge for Watford will be whether he can maintain his efficiencies on a team that doesn’t really have anyone who consistently forces help off the dribble. He knocked down 48% from deep when given at least six feet of room, per, but made only 1-of-13 of his 3s when guarded more closely.

While he’s neither a strong rim presence nor a great rebounder for his size, Watford knows as Lichtenstein notes, how to box out which he did effectively in Portland when paired with Jusef Nurkic, the beefiest of the Balkan bigs.

All that considered, Lichtenstein writes, Watford may very well be most likely of three young bigs to succeed in the back-up role, particularly because of that shooting skill and willingness to sacrifice.

Lichtenstein also grinds through some conflicting data on Watford’s defense, including being in the 98th percentile in switchability, critical of the Nets, but a weak performer when he’s the defender closest to the shooter. Bottom line for Lichtenstein:

When looking at how Watford fared as the closest defender based on’s listed matchups against certain types of players. Watford got the better of Oklahoma City star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Klay Thompson, and Jaylen Brown more often than not, but was roasted by Christian Wood, Jordan Clarkson, and Luka Doncic.

So like much of the off-season, Watford matches a defensive and unselfish profile:

In general, he can be a winning player on both sides of the ball for 15-20 minutes off the bench. He seems to know how to play with or without the ball in his hands and values possessions.

Still, the space is going to be crowded even if he makes the team, as Lichtenstein notes. Besides Bazley and Giles III, there’s Cam Johnson, Royce O’Neale, and Dorian Finney-Smith, even Noah Clowney lurking along the sidelines at HSS Training Center. It will be another challenge for Jacque Vaughn.