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2021 NBA Draft prospect watch: LSU forward Trendon Watford

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The 6-foot-9 forward could bring offensive versatility to Detroit’s front court

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

While the top of the NBA Draft receives all the headlines, as we have seen with players like Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee, it’s lower in the draft when front offices really earn their money. That is why it’s important to flag potential second-round picks who are worth keeping an eye on to potentially join the rebuilding Detroit Pistons.

Sophomore 6-foot-9 forward Trendon Watford from LSU is an enticing player that will likely be an option for the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft. It’s not a sure thing that Watford will declare for the draft, however, after his freshman season he flirted with going pro before returning.

Watford has improved key parts of his game this season, making him a probable second-round pick. He is tied for second in scoring (16.2) for the LSU Tigers, behind projected first rounder Cam Thomas, a 6-foot-4 guard who never met a shot he didn’t like. More on Cam maybe another day.

Watford plays in kind of a free-flowing, push-it-up-the-floor offensive system at LSU with more than a couple offensively talented teammates. LSU fans and media types were quick to get on Watford for his wild, careless play and less than reasonable shot selection throughout much of his frosh season, as Watford turned the ball over 2.5 times in 31 minutes per game. This number isn’t too worrisome when you consider his minutes played, his status as a freshman in a Power-5 conference, and his responsibility as a scorer (13.6 points per game on over 10 shots per game).

This season, his turnovers have actually increased a small tick, but his assists have nearly doubled from 1.7 to 3.2. His shooting numbers from the free throw-line and from downtown have improved from last season: Watford is shooting north of 70% from the stripe on a healthy 5-plus trips per game, and north of 31% from three at 2.2 attempts per game. Watford’s 3-ball his freshman season was 26.9%, also at 2.2 attempts per game.

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Watford is, in my own extremely original words, a basketball player. That sounds simple enough, but it can be a flummoxing concept for some. Watford, while a good enough athlete, is more known for his raw basketball skills and touch rather than athleticism or flashiness. The 20-year-old may not have a ceiling as high as many of the first-round prospects do (such as Kai Jones or Jalen Johnson), but he has a marketable skill as a scorer.

This single play is Watford’s game (no. 2 in white) in a nutshell. He is skilled and loves to attack. He can get himself into trouble by trying to do too much, too quickly. It’s clear though, there’s high-level skill in his bag.

Watford’s ball-handling skills, solid build, and wingspan of over 7 feet afford him a variety of ways to score in the lane on the break and in the half court.

Early on, after Watford starts off, there’s seemingly a quick passing window up the court with a teammate on the left that could have led to a quicker or easier opportunity. Watford either missed it or thought it was too risky. Still, Watford attacks at a steady but unassuming pace, keeping his defender guessing. I’d like to think Watford realized he had a big on him (instead of a quicker player picking him up on the break) and knew it was game over for the defender. Watford will win pretty much every one of those battles against a big in space. In the NBA, he won’t have it that easy on a fast break all of the time, but it will be difficult for most players of similar size to defend Watford in that much space.

As I alluded to earlier, Watford is a good athlete, but he is not vertically explosive. In order to flourish at the NBA level, he will need all the polish he can get with his interior game and dribble-drive ability.

Taking what the defense gives you (and sometimes the defense doesn’t even know what they are giving you) is a vital basketball skill. In watching sequences this season, no matter whether Watford makes shots, misses shots, and everything else, he’s usually quick to realize what kind of advantage he has on his defender or the defense as a whole. He’s often is scoring mode, and it shows.

Of course, he will need to develop a consistent jump shot. That way, if Watford can be a consistent duel scoring threat, he’ll more than likely be an impact player off the bench in due time. Pair Watford with a defensive-minded big and it might unleash his best value as a long, offensive-minded power forward. One of the best things Watford has going is his dribble-drive ability, as it will open extra room for him to get jump shots off. But, that only consistently works if you have a dangerous perimeter skillset. In this horns set, the simultaneous jab and triple-threat ball fake does the job.

Defensively, the word is out on Watford that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Whether it’s focus, scheme or coaching, or a combination of all three, there is work to do. Watford is a key cog in LSU’s success (they are a tournament team that could make it past the first weekend) and it leads him to take certain defensive possessions easy with no risk of facing consequences. On the other hand, trying to make an NBA roster, or say, working his way into an NBA rotation, will obviously force Watford to ratchet his defensive awareness up several levels. Strength and agility training from NBA programs could push him into an athletic level he didn’t know he had.

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With Watford’s ability to score in a variety of ways off the dribble and his improvement at the foul line this season — now being over 70%, which is usually a good indicator of shooting potential — it’s my belief that he offers a higher ceiling than a lot of the players pegged for the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft. In the second round of the draft, teams should be focusing on finding high-upside players or players that already have one elite or near elite skill. Watford’s size, length, and scoring prowess is enticing for a Pistons frontcourt that sans Jerami Grant is not adept at creating their own shot.

Currently, Trendon Watford will appear in mock drafts anywhere in the early to late second round, and sometimes not at all. We really don’t know what NBA scouts are thinking, but it’s fun to forecast. It’s still early on in the pre-draft feeling out process. Unlike last March, where most NBA prospects were unable to showcase themselves on the national stage during March Madness due to the beginning stages of a pandemic, this March things are a bit more under control so hopefully the basketball fun is here to stay.

Detroit Bad Boys Nation — is Trendon Watford a prospect worth keeping an eye on? Any other potential second-round picks you are interested in that might be worth a closer look?

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If you’re interested in any of my past pre-NBA Draft musings and wondering how right and wrong I was, here are a few links.

In 2017, I wrote about John Collins here. In 2018 I wrote about Svi Mykhailiuk here and here. In 2019, I wrote about Ky Bowman here.