It’s a testament to the Jazz’s depth this year that the team’s back-up point guard has been knocked down to #12 (perhaps unfairly) by the voting bloggers. Still, no one would deny Watson’s emotional impact on the team. Earl Watson has had a quiet offseason, and with the addition of Randy Foye as a possibility at backup point guard, his on-court presence with the Jazz will almost certainly be more limited this year than last. That said, don’t confuse on-court presence with on-court influence, because if you can guarantee anything with Earl Watson, it’s that his voice will be heard by both his teammates, the referees, and the opponents. “Intangibles” may be a useless word to describe basketball skills, but in terms of non-basketball skills that still affect basketball games, Earl Watson has all the intangibles. So here are my top 3 favorite Earl Watson non-basketball plays:
3. One time, he said this: “I hate losing more than I like making money.” Then, there was this whole interview. In that two minute clip, Earl Watson demonstrates his whole arsenal of non-basketball intangibles: he never deigns to “media speak,” he makes no excuses, he takes losses on the chin and he lets the anger motivate him.
2. The Three-Salute. This is the combination of one of my favorite basketball Earl moments with one of my favorite non-basketball Earl moments. After drilling a back-breaking three against the Lakers, Earl turned to the crowd, and saluted them with three fingers. There was much debate last year over who had the best three-point celebration (the Russell Westbrook guns-in-the-holster, and Derek Fisher’s three-hatchet), but this one didn’t get nearly enough run.
1. The ball-slap. Against the Mavericks last year, Dirk Nowitzki, upset with a call, slapped the ball out of Derrick Favors hands, and an intimidated Derrick Favors (may I never have to utter that phrase again) did nothing to retaliate. Earl Watson (listed at 6’1”) angrily stepped forward and got in the face of Dirk Nowitzki (listed at 7′ and a German to boot). He slapped the ball out of Dirk’s hands, delivered some choice words, and subsequently got T’d up. Watch the whole thing yourself, but do so with the warning that Favors’ timidity might distress you more than a little.
Offseason Accomplishments: Led the team in Retweets; became Enes Kanter’s quasi-Public Relations representative; appeared on Better Kansas City working a classy jacket and an edgy shirt-tie combo.
Patronus: Raccoon. Not a bulldog.
Stat to watch: Defensive Win Shares. The only definitive advantage Watson has over Tinsley is on defense. Watson, a veteran, is younger than Tinsley and holds up better over long stretches, but with the addition of Foye, neither Tinsley nor Watson is going to be playing for that long, which means that the only thing Watson can bring that Tinsley can’t is tough perimeter defense. If Foye is injured, or if Corbin wants to play him at the 2 (admittedly, a stretch), Watson can act as a temporary solution for what is one of the Jazz’s biggest weaknesses: defending athletic point guards.
Three Potential Outcomes of the Season
1. Because of injuries, because of his defense, or because he fits the system better than Tinsley, Watson becomes the go-to back-up point guard. While I would certainly have complaints about this turn of events, it would probably mean that the Jazz were moving to an uptempo offensive system, and Watson is a perfect point guard to lead the Jazz’s bench in a revamped, fast break offense.
2. Because of an injury to him or because of Corbin’s rotation decisions, Watson plays out the season primarily as a garbage time reliever for Tinsley and Foye. The possibility of this scenario hinges on whether Corbin believes Foye can play at the two. If he doesn’t, Watson may be aced out of playing time.
3. The Jazz trade him. This is highly unlikely, but with an overload at the point guard position and Watson’s contract expiring at the end of the season, it’s at least a possibility. A sad possibility though to be sure, because even if he’s not playing consistently, Jazz fans are collectively happier with Watson on the roster, and if the team is ever locked in a dicey, slugfest with the Lakers, I think we can all agree that Watson has earned the right to be there.