In the months leading up to the 2020-’21 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the ‘BTPowerhouse 25,’ which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Today’s edition will take a brief look at Rocket Watts of the Michigan State Spartans, who came in tied at No. 17 in the rankings. The Spartans are certainly hoping Watts continues his growth he experienced in conference play after spending the first half of the season struggling with a lingering stress reaction injury in his lower leg.
‘BTPowerhouse 25’ - No. 17 Rocket Watts:
- Eligibility: Sophomore
- Career Totals: 27 games, 602 minutes, 244 points, 63 rebounds, 45 assists
- 2019-’20 Averages: 22.3 min, 9.0 pts, 3.3 rebs, 1.8 asts, 0.1 blks, 1.0 stls
- Positional Role: Guard
Last season Rocket Watts arrived on campus with a lot of fanfare, but struggled early on. He came up big in big time games, though, and also earned Big Ten All-Freshman team honors. The Spartans need him to repeat that this season, along with at times picking up on running the offense as point guard when Foster Loyer needs a break and Cassius Winston has departed.
Watts is an explosive and dynamic player in isolation. While his stats from early in the season when he was injured and starting major college ball as a freshman drag down the averages, he was a deadly scoring threat for Michigan State down the stretch late in conference play. During that final run for MSU’s clinching of a share of the conference title, Watts was averaging 31 minutes per game and scoring 17.5 points. He was also shooting 59 percent from inside the arc, going 16-for-27. He provided a needed scoring threat for the Spartans perimeter to compliment Cassius Winston and help relieve pressure on Xavier Tillman down low.
Watts also showed a knack for finding the open space on the floor. He has the ability to isolate his defender and beat him off the drive much like Spartan fans came to expect from Winston, but with an explosive speed on top of that. His ability to read the floor, isolate his man, and beat him with a drive to the basket is vital against teams like Wisconsin if MSU wants to repeat for a fourth straight conference crown.
-Areas for Improvement
Watts may have been averaging around 30 percent shooting from the three point range late last season, but to be the well-rounded perimeter threat Michigan State truly needs, his shooting from deep could use some improvement. MSU’s elite three-point shooters in recent years like Cassius Winston, Bryn Forbes, and Denzel Valentine have averaged in the upper 30’s and low 40’s percentage wise. 30 percent isn’t bad, but it is something Watts needs to improve moving forward.
Additionally, Watts needs to get comfortable with running the point, and fast. With the departure of Winston, it is unclear who will step up as full time point guard. Foster Loyer might be, freshman AJ Hoggard could see minutes at a size rare to the Izzo era, and even Jack Hoiberg could play limited minutes at the position. But Watts is in the mix to make the move as well, either as a backup to the position in conjunction with staying at the two, or as a full time point in the type of role Kalin Lucas and Keith Appling provided at the one. To that end, Watts will need to quickly become comfortable running the point and improving his reading of the floor in that position as opposed to shooting guard.
Watts seems likely to see a lot of minutes in a talented group of back-court players for the Spartans this season. If he can continue to gain confidence with his play while healthy, and the talk from Coach Izzo on his work improving ball-handling and shooting during the offseason shows up on the court, he will be a player opposing teams would rather not face. His style of play at point guard can certainly be a threat if his ball handling and ability to read the floor have improved to a level needed in the Big Ten as well. Altogether Watts has all the talent there for further Big Ten honors this season.
‘BTPowerhouse 25’ Rankings:
- #27-28 - Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #25 - Adam Miller (Illinois)
- #25 - Miller Kopp (Northwestern)
- #22 - Ron Harper (Rutgers)
- #22 - Eric Hunter (Purdue)
- #22 - CJ Fredrick (Iowa)
- #21 - Rob Phinisee (Indiana)
- #20 - Khristian Lander (Indiana)
- #19 - Seth Towns (Ohio State)
- #17 - Nate Reuvers (Wisconsin)
- #17 - Mark “Rocket” Watts (Michigan State)
- #16 - To be continued . . .