Michigan’s wing recruiting in the class of 2016 was a rollercoaster.
The Wolverines landed what appeared to be a statement commitment from Tyus Battle last May, only to see him decommit a few weeks later as their other top target, Josh Langford, quickly pledged to Michigan State.
Michigan entered last year’s evaluation period without a clear top wing target on the board, just as Ibi Watson entered July without a Big Ten offer. Everything took off from there as Watson blew up during the live period and the two grew into a perfect match. Watson added an Indiana offer early in the month before he accepted Michigan offer by month’s end.
At that point, Watson’s commitment still seemed like something of a luxury as the U-M roster featured plenty of wing depth. Michigan had Aubrey Dawkins coming off of a promising freshman season and former five-star recruit Kameron Chatman on the roster as sophomores. Duncan Robinson was ready to make an impact and Zak Irvin would be heading into his senior year when Watson arrived.
The plan when Watson committed was that the 6-foot-5 guard could learn the ropes as a freshman, maybe even redshirt, before stepping into a more key role later on in his career. A year later, Watson is on campus while Dawkins and Chatman are both elsewhere. He’s not a luxury anymore, he’s one of the only backup wing guards on the roster.
Watson is the lowest ranked member of Michigan’s incoming class, checking in at 240th according to 247 Sports Composite Rankings, but taking a closer look at the roster he might be the most important.
By the Numbers
- Composite Rank: 3-star, 240th
- Height: 6-foot-5
- Weight: 185 lbs
- EYBL Stats: 19.8 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 53% 2P%, 32.4 3P%, 50.2 eFG%
- HS Senior Year Stats: 19.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.5 apg, 55% 2P%, 34% 3P%, 53.5 eFG%
- HS Junior Year Stats: 17.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 55% 2P%, 34% 3P%, 53.4 eFG%
Here’s a combined shot chart of all of Watson’s shots as a senior at Pickerington Central and on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2015 from Krossover.
Reasons for Excitement
- Potential: Watson has the requisite length and athleticism that you like to see from a college wing. He can hit shots, get out in transition and finish at the rim.
- Opportunity: Two-thirds of making an impact as a freshman is having the opportunity to do so. A couple glances up and down Michigan’s roster and it is obvious that Watson should have at least a chance to crack the rotation.
- Shooting: Watson’s shooting numbers don’t jump off the page at the prep level (around the mid-30s for his career), but the volume of three-pointers that he got up consistently is an endorsement of his shooting. He’s scored well in Michigan’s 60-in-5 shooting drills and that’s a good sign of what’s to come.
- Strength: Watson is listed at 6-foot-5, 185 lbs on the first draft of Michigan’s roster. While it’s possible to play in the Big Ten at that weight, it’s far from ideal as a Big Ten wing guard. Is Watson strong enough to survive at both ends of the floor in the Big Ten as a freshman? That’s a legitimate question to ask right now.
- Defense: Watson’s never really been known as a defender, although he posted a high rate of deflections at Pickerington per Krossover, and he could be stuck in some difficult defensive situations coming off the bench as a freshman.
- Ball handling: Watson probably doesn’t have the ball-handling ability to create off the bounce as a freshman. His game generally revolves around the threat of the shot and attack on straight line drives off of a closeouts.
Aubrey Dawkins played around 40% of available minutes last season backing up the three and four positions. Some combination of DJ Wilson, Watson or a two-point guard lineup is going to fill that void this season. With basically all of those options looking relatively unproven heading into the season, Watson should be in the mix to start the year.
Dawkins’ defensive struggles last season were well documented, so even given lower expectations for a freshman defensively, there’s a chance that Watson can replace that production. Offensively, Watson isn’t likely to shoot upward of 43% (Dawkins’ career average) as he’s shot in the mid-30s throughout the majority of his prep career, but if he can play spot, solid minutes for the Wolverines offensively then there’s a role for him on this team.
Quotable: “He’s had a really good summer. I think he’s one of these young players that between his rising senior year of high school and college has really developed and blossomed. We saw that a little bit with Glenn Robinson a few years ago. Physically, he has certainly matured since making the decision to come to Michigan, there’s no doubt about that.” — Jeff Meyer on the Michigan Insider.