The Indiana Pacers have been playing one of the most brutal stretches of basketball that they have had in recent history, but seem to finally be coming out of the funk. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but backup point guard C.J. Watson missed a good chunk of games during the worst part of the struggle. Watson showed just how important he can be to the Pacers yesterday afternoon with a big performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in perhaps the biggest game of Indiana’s season.
Indiana’s offense has been very inconsistent all season long, but Watson has been the most consistent bench scorer all season for the Pacers when healthy. He has dealt with both an elbow and hamstring injury, and finally appears to be back to 100 percent health once again. Not only has he been a consistent scorer all season, he has also been one of Indiana’s best defenders off the bench and a perfect change of pace as the backup point guard behind George Hill.
Watson has played in 63 games with the Pacers this season, starting in five of those appearances. He has averaged 6.6 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 rebounds per game in 18.9 minutes per game. Those numbers may not look all that impressive, but his game against the Thunder shows exactly what he is capable of doing. Scoring 20 points to go along with three rebounds and an assist in a huge win is certainly something that the Pacers have been missing in Watson’s absence.
His shooting chart shows just how valuable of a scorer he can be to a team like Indiana. He can take the basketball strong to the rim or step out and knock down the three-point shot. Perhaps the most valuable part about Watson is his ability to force the defense to stretch out to him. The Pacers like to play through the post quite a bit, and having perimeter shooters around the outside make that much more possible.
At the beginning of the season, Watson was expected to be a nice role player but not the X-Factor off the bench for the Pacers. He was signed to help with the scoring load off of the bench, but wasn’t expected to be as important to the team as he has been. His shooting numbers overall are at 43.7 percent, which is up from last season, but he has dipped a bit in 3-point shooting at 36.6 percent.
Overall, this has been a very obviously part of the Pacers’ struggles down the stretch of the season. Watson is a very important piece to what the Pacers want to do, and they will need their bench to produce in a big way if they want to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this season. All that being said, it will be interesting to see if Frank Vogel realizes just how important Watson is on the floor and give him more minutes in the playoffs.
Evan Massey is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com. Follow Evan on Twitter at @Massey_Evan.