Anton Watson Breakdown vs Pepperdine


As part of a dominant senior season that has made him a candidate for the WCC Player of the Year, Anton Watson showed a versatile skillset with soft touch on his push shot, physical battles near the rim and in the post, and outstanding defensive ability against Pepperdine earlier this week. Despite an October birthday that makes him 24 come training camp for his first NBA season, there’s a lot to like about Anton Watson that makes him a potential day-one contributor for an NBA team. Against Pepperdine Watson had 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 2 turnovers on 7-10 shooting.


In these plays, Watson shows an ability to not only thrive as a catch & drive threat, but also can win in the post with both physicality and finesse. While Watson is unlikely to be much of a post-up threat in the NBA, it helps paint the bigger picture of him having the footwork, scoring moves off of dribbles, and overall intelligence near the rim. His counters and ability to use fakes help him on drives, rim finishes, and post-ups as well.

Starting with finesse, Watson had a couple of flashes of hitting push shots/floaters, one off the catch and another out of the post-up as a hook shot to quickly rise over the defender. This weapon has been strong for him, converting 10 of 22 floaters on the year, per Synergy Sports. This ranks in the 68th percentile of floater efficiency.

Moving to physicality, Watson wins the post-up on this possession after being pushed back pretty heavily on his initial dribble. However, he recognizes how far the defender is leaning away from the baseline, which Watson capitalizes on immediately with a quick spin, then gives the defender a bump so that he has permanent position. The only move the defender can make at this point is to have an extremely sharp timing on the block, but instead this turns into an and-1 because the defender’s window to block the shot quickly fades away. This play captures Watson’s strength, post skill, and intelligence all in a matter of seconds.

Another example of Anton Watson’s intelligence as a scorer comes on the drive. Again using his physicality with a bump on the drive, Watson uses a shoulder dip and light ball fake as a way to trick the defender, who has more momentum going towards the baseline, into biting on the fake. From there, all Watson has to do is lean into the defender to draw the foul, and Watson finishes the play. This is another example of Watson’s sharp feel for the game and being able to use his intelligence as a scorer.

The last offensive play was the final nail in the coffin of this game, confirming the blowout. First, Watson recognizes the hole on the defense out of the P&R, forcing Watson’s man to drop into help towards Graham Ike and the baseline cutter. From there, this is a simple play with a beautiful finishing move of a euro-step right with excellent ball-position to avoid the final defender and lean into a left-handed layup.


Watson had a strong defensive game against Pepperdine, having great timing on contests and showing great balance against drives, as well as reading plays before they happen. However, there are times where his mediocre athleticism limits his contests if he does not perfectly time the shot. Overall though, Watson played a positive brand of defensive basketball, limiting mistakes and being a tough draw in space against ball-handlers for Pepperdine.

While both of these below plays are not high quality shots from Pepperdine’s offense, Watson’s timing on these jumpers is impeccable and speaks volumes to how he reads shooters to be able to time jumpers on a consistent basis.

Then there’s balance: notice how Watson’s base is consistently steady and he is never thrown off balance by change of direction and shifty guards. He has a sturdy core with good lateral mobility, which allows for him to be a versatile defender that can control possessions on the defensive end. These plays show the defensive advantages he creates from his body control, balance, and instincts.

Another example of instincts is on this play where Watson tracks the next pass out of the trap before the pass is made, and as the trapped ball-handler recognizes the open shooter. Watson reads it as the free safety, then gets out to the shooter in time. However, Watson closed out too hard for this play, which made for an easy flyby for the shooter, leading to the made shot. The process is still impressive here, showing that he can read plays before they happen, which is a shared trait among elite defenders. 

The only major defensive concern that was shown in this game was that his athleticism can often limit how effective his closeouts are. In the play below, Watson doesn’t get much lift on his contest, allowing for him to be shot over too easily, especially for shooters with a high jump base. In the NBA, where shooters are more adroit and comfortable at shooting over contests, a light contest could be a disadvantage for Watson defensively. However, notice again another example on the drive of keeping his balance:

Lastly, Watson thrives with the most important trait a player can have defensively: he plays hard and does the dirty work on the defensive end, playing with a hard motor 100% of the time. He is comfortable diving on the floor for loose balls, more than almost any other player his size in college basketball given the frequency of Watson ending up on the floor in a tie-up. 

Overall, between Watson’s defensive impact and excelling at making the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet, to his prowess near the rim (shoots 73% at the rim, which ranks in the 92nd percentile in NCAA basketball) Watson has an ability to make his team better on both ends. The defensive versatility should translate to the NBA easily, and his ability to make teammates better and to put teammates in ideal spots goes a long way for his offensive impact. These traits could make him a candidate to be a day-one impact player in the NBA, with room to continue growing in areas such as shooting.