C.J. Watson making the adjustment


Nov 20

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Sure, it’s fun being part of the band. But when they hit a bad note, it’s never the lead singers who get the blame.

And so it’s been for several of the Bulls reserves players, mostly shooting guards Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer and point guard C.J. Watson, who hear the rumbles, that the team needs to replace them, needs a high quality starting shooting guard, a better backup point to relieve Derrick Rose.

No, it’s not something they hear from their teammates or their coach as the reserves were vital Friday in the 88-83 upset win in Dallas, and coach Tom Thibodeau routinely has said he has confidence in the bench and never is afraid to use them.

But Watson, perhaps more than anyone, has heard the whispers, sometimes louder than other times that the team needs to find someone else.

“You hear it all the time,” acknowledges Watson, particularly quiet and polite among the Bulls players. “It’s part of life. It doesn’t bother me.”

I’ll add my opinion that it bothers everyone when they are serious about their job, as I’ve seen Watson to be. But it’s what you say, especially when you are young and can be hurt more by it.

“It goes on everywhere if you’re playing basketball,” Watson was saying quietly the other day. “They say that about others.”

He looked at me then, his eyes twinkling a bit and said, “They might say they need a better reporter than you. You never know.”

He then laughed, which is something I don’t hear from Watson much.

But he—and the Bulls—may have reason to begin to loosen up a bit more if Watson is growing into his role as the backup for the player perhaps on the way to being the best in his position in the NBA.

Ask Pete Myers about replacing Michael Jordan, as he did in 1994. I remember growing up a guy named Jack Reed who usually came in during the late innings to replace Mickey Mantle to save Mantle’s legs. Later in Mantle’s career, when the Yankees were the worst team in baseball and all America rejoiced, it was a guy named Ross Moschitto. It doesn’t mean much, but it’s a long time since I’ve been able to write Ross Moschitto.

There is no replacing a legend, of course, but in Watson’s case it’s even more complicated because he is a square peg.

Not that he’s a problem or incapable, but the fact is he’s basically always been a scoring guard now being asked to patiently run a half court offense. Or some offense compared to where he was.

It’s a lot more difficult than it seems, and there’s no tougher conversion in basketball than trying to make someone a point guard. Not that it’s a complete makeover as Watson has played the position. But he’s never been a high assist guy, averaging 2.4 in three seasons with Golden State, so it’s not going to come so quickly.

“It is a different system than from where I came from,” agrees Watson. “I have to adjust better, find my spots and help the team anyway I can.

“To us (in Golden State), we had plays,” said Watson. “I know to everyone else we didn’t. But once I get used to the system, where everyone wants the ball and likes the ball, that’s the biggest thing. After that, it’s just basketball. It is hard to follow someone like Derrick, but you have to play your own game, play my game and do what I do best.”

Against the Mavs with 13 points and two assists in 17 minutes, it was Watson playing down the stretch with Rose, thus enhancing the ball movement and allowing Rose to come off screens and attack in the half court. My guess as the Bulls prepare for the Lakers in Los Angeles Tuesday is we’ll be seeing sort of a three headed combo one/two combination with Brewer, Boguns and Watson playing in the backcourt with Rose depending on matchups with Watson also doubling as the backup ball handler since neither Brewer or Bogans pass particularly well.

Thiboduea went to the Rose/Watson pairing when the Bulls came back late against the Spurs and used it late against the Mavs with Watson making four clutch free throws in the fourth quarter.

“It was good to play with Derrick,” said Watson. “It’s up to the coach and how he wants to use it. Hopefully, we’ll do well and we can win some games.”

Watson was one of the late pickups this summer as the Bulls were filling out their roster after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade moved on and they signed Carlos Boozer. Unable to land that second big star free agent, the Bulls used the money for positions and have liked Watson in the past and technically traded a second for him.

Though the risk when you take players from Don Nelson’s Warriors is the lack of defense they play there and the wild offense. Watson, a thin 6-2 guard who wasn’t drafted after four years at Tennessee and initially went overseas, seems serious minded and worked his way through the D-league to the Warriors.

I liked that one of his off court projects was essay contests for kids from his native Las Vegas to win trips to see Warriors games.

It’s Charles Jr., by the way, for the C.J.

So you come to a new team after averaging 10.3 points in 27 minutes last season with a 40-point game, and you’re averaging 4.5 points with a high of eight before Friday in 12.8 minutes per game and fewer than five shots per game.

And this isn’t Golden State, where the community practically threw a parade for a first round playoff win a few years back and pretty much hopes for 40-win seasons and entertainment.

And C.J was perfect for them. You know, See the J. Take it.

Now, Watson, 26, is not someone who complains. In fact, I hardly hear him say much of anything. He goes about his business seriously, it seems, at a time patience isn’t a public virtue.

“It is a lot different playing 27 minutes a game and then playing 10,” says Watson. “It’s an adjustment, something you have to get used to, but also be ready when you are called on. There’s more half court in this system, so it is an adjustment when you are used to one thing, but I’ll be fine. I’ll get used to it.

“I was a scoring guard,” said Watson. “Now I have to pass more and set people up. I’ll get used to that. It takes awhile (at point guard) to know your game and adjust, but I think I can do both (score and distribute).

“I need to be vocal with my teammates, get them in the right spots and run the plays the coach wants,” said Watson.

And I should add it’s not like everyone else is doing that so great as it’s amusing to watch during games with Bulls players waving one another to different spots like traffic police. I’ve counted at least four times already the opponent has gotten a defensive three second technical against the starters because one or several Bulls’ players didn’t seem to know the play and everyone was waving others to move and the offense stood still. So the defense did as well and never moved from the lane.

So as they say around the NBA this time of year, it’s a work in progress. For Watson as well, but he seems to be progressing.

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