Home News How Nets’ Trendon Watford has made the most of his late-season opportunities

How Nets’ Trendon Watford has made the most of his late-season opportunities

The Nets, in all likelihood, will miss the postseason in 2023-24. But for guys like third-year forward Trendon Watford, there is still plenty to play for.

Watford, 23, is still fighting to earn his keep in the NBA. The former first-team All-SEC performer spent his first two seasons in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers after going undrafted out of LSU. He was the 2022 Summer League championship game MVP. He averaged 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists across 62 games while shooting a career-best 39.1% from 3-point range.

Those averages are pretty solid for an undrafted player, all things considered. Yet he was still waived by Portland ahead of this season, which eventually led to the 6-foot-9 forward signing a non-guaranteed standard deal in Brooklyn.

Watford never got off the bench in the Nets’ first three games of the season and averaged just 11.8 minutes per game from November to March. But whenever he has received extended run — like he did on Nov. 10 against the Boston Celtics or on Dec 27 against Milwaukee — he always played well enough to make fans wonder why he had not been on the court more.

“Just trying to take advantage of the opportunity,” Watford said.

At this point in the season, it is hard to keep Watford off the court. Not because the Nets have suffered a series of season-ending injuries, but because he has seemingly found his confidence and is starting to unlock his potential at both ends of the court.

Watford has averaged 15.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game over his last five appearances entering Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center. He had played 25.4 minutes a night over that span while shooting 66.7% from the field and 50% from deep.

Watford, who earned a guaranteed deal on Jan. 8, also has a defensive rating of 110.5 over that stretch — not the best but ranks fourth on the team among players who had appeared in each of the last five games. He finished with a season-high 21 points in Monday’s loss to Indiana.

“He’s just coming in being really aggressive,” Nic Claxton said. “[He’s] taking advantage of the minutes that he’s getting. He’s playing a big role these last few games, and he’s been really solid coming off the bench.

“He’s always ready. He’s always real positive whenever he’s on the bench or whether he’s on the court just giving us good energy. And you see now he’s getting his opportunity and he’s making the best of his reps.”

What makes Watford’s upside so intriguing is his versatility. He fits the mold of a point forward with his larger frame, which makes him a mismatch against forwards with slower feet. He’s a solid passer with a natural feel for the game.

Watford is a better ballhandler than he gets credit for with a soft touch around the rim. Not to mention he has continued to improve as a shooter in each of his first three seasons in the league, now shooting a career-best 40.4% from deep across 57 games off the bench.

He’s young, he plays hard, and his blooming skillset could make him a true asset to build with in future seasons. Watford will be a restricted free agent this offseason but could probably be retained on a team-friendly deal. It might be in Brooklyn’s best interest to keep him in-house and see just how much he can improve.

“He’s just showing that he’s a true professional,” interim head coach Kevin Ollie said of Watford. “When his [name] has been called, he’s been able to step up great. But that’s all the work that he’s doing. And I keep telling you, like timeouts and all that stuff, he’s involved in the game. And that’s all you want. Like you can’t control situations, but you control your joy of the game and how you stay ready and how you stay in tune with it.”


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