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Watford Showing He Belongs

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 5, 2013

Christian Watford wished, like every other player, to hear his name called in last month’s NBA Draft. When he was still on the draft board with the Pacers up for the second time at No. 53, both Watford and his agent, Joel Bell, thought this could be his moment.

Then, the Pacers sold the pick to the Boston Celtics.

The Alabama native and Indiana University product had to decide what was next. He wanted to play Summer League ball in the attempt of making a roster before considering going overseas. Calls quickly came in and Watford had invitations from eight teams to play on their Summer League team. He narrowed it down to the Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, two teams who could use his services as a sharpshooter.

At Indiana, Watford averaged more than 11 points per game each season and raised his 3-point percentage every year. During his senior season, as the Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 in the country for 10 weeks, he made 48 percent of his outside shots. He also converted free throws at a high rate, 81.8 percent, over four years.

“His shot looks like it’s going in all the time,” said Pacers assistant Dan Burke, who’s directing the Summer League squad.

“You always like shooting and he’s got NBA skill. … Defensively, you can tell he’s been well-coached. He’s shown he belongs.”

During practices and even into the games next week, Watford isn’t trying to force anything or do too much. He understands that NBA decision-makers have seen him play plenty of times, now he’s just doing it at a different level – and seeking a contract.

“Nothing more than what I’ve been showing,” he said. “I’m stretching the floor as a defender, can shoot the basketball, rebound the basketball. Nothing too complicated.”

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard is active on twitter (@PacersKev), and at 10:50 a.m. during the morning session, he fired off praise for Watford.

“For all you Indiana Hoosiers fans. Christian Watford has had a really good camp.”

Watford obviously hadn’t heard about the tweet when he stopped to talk before heading back to the locker room, but upon hearing about it, he did crack a smile.

“Oh, I hadn’t heard anything about it,” Watford said. “He tweeted it? Okay, I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of mentions when I get back to my phone. That’s great man. I just come out here and just try to put my hard-hat on and try to grind, and just try to work hard. Try to bring the same thing coach Crean instilled in me, just playing hard every day.”

Watford continued: “I’ve been knocking down shots, so that may have had something to do with the reason he sent that out. I’ve definitely made some shots and showed this team what I can bring to the table.”

The Pacers clearly need a shooter – or two – to advance even further next season. Danny Granger, if healthy, can provide some relief but the team needs more. They shot 34.7 from long-range last season, ranking 22nd in the league. A consistent shooter can space the floor and provide some instant offense off the bench. In turn, the other four players on the court would benefit.

With Watford, the question many have is his mindset. He wears this disinterested look on his face, which causes some to question his consistency. Coach Burke said he’s seen this type of look before in a former Pacers player.

“He’s got a certain gait to him, almost like a Derrick McKey-gait,” Burke explained. “You always wonder, ‘Is he working hard or not?’ But, he’s in the right spot most of the time. That tells me he’s working hard and he understands the game. I think he’s pretty efficient, but he’ll find when we get to Orlando, the game is going to be much quicker.”

Watford will play three games with the Pacers, Sunday through Tuesday, before heading to Las Vegas to join the Mavericks for more games in front of a different, larger audience. 10 teams play in Orlando and 22, including some duplicates, participate in the Vegas league.

The Pacers made cuts Friday afternoon, trimming the 19-man roster down to 14 – and then adding guard Angelo Sharpless – before heading down to Florida.

“We want to come back in tonight and just have two sessions with the guys that are going to Orlando,” Burke said. “[We’ll] hammer in some out-of-bounds plays, more details. We really haven’t done much of that. We’ve just been letting them play and letting them work.”

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