Jamir Watkins is Doing Everything | The Prospect Overview
Florida State's Jamir Watkins has displayed everything NBA teams look for in a wing this season! PLUS: Utah State vs. Santa Clara in the MMGOTW and Quick Hits!
Feature: Jamir Watkins is Doing Everything
Close your eyes. Wait, no, don’t do that. If you close your eyes, you won’t be able to read my instructions.
Instead, just imagine in your head for a moment.
Imagine the ideal complementary wing player for the modern NBA.
He’s got a good frame and positive athletic traits—this will allow him to cover multiple positions on defense. He’ll also generate steals and blocks without gambling too aggressively. He’s probably a good shooter off the catch, but he can pull up when needed. If teams chase him off the line, he can finish inside. This player is also a heads-up passer who can reward his teammates when they are open. He’ll make hustle plays and rebound well for his position.
That guy sounds a lot like Jamir Watkins.
If you’re a real Draft Sicko, you followed along with my No Stone Unturned series this offseason, so you’re already in the know. But if you’re unfamiliar with Jamir Watkins, that’s understandable. He was largely under the radar coming into the year, not appearing on any mainstream boards or mock drafts. Even now, he’s just starting to get more recognition.
Coming out of Trenton Catholic High School in New Jersey, Watkins passed up high-major offers to attend VCU in 2020. The 6’7” wing had a good freshman season for the Rams, often appearing as their first player off the bench. Unfortunately, a knee injury would keep him off the floor the following year. Watkins returned as a redshirt sophomore during the 2022-2023 college season, and he didn’t miss a beat. He produced even more efficiently with a larger role and looked the same from a physical standpoint. Watkins stuffed the stat sheet and looked like one of the more well-rounded players in the Atlantic-10.
After the conclusion of the season, VCU’s Head Coach Mike Rhoades left to accept the Penn State job. The next day, Jamir Watkins entered the transfer portal. From there, he committed to Florida State. On one hand, it made sense for Watkins to go from mid-major to high-major. His size and style of play make him a hyper-malleable player who can make any team better. Plus, he’d clearly overperformed in his role at VCU. It was hard to imagine a situation anywhere in the country where Watkins wouldn’t get minutes.
Conversely, there was some potential downside. By going to a bigger program, Watkins could have found himself stuck in a similar, more tertiary role. However, the FSU decision has been a boon for Watkins. He hasn’t just managed to scale up in his role to a higher level of competition, he’s actually taken on a larger role. Watkins has been Florida State’s per-game leader in points, rebounds, and assists. He’s also, remarkably, done this while improving his efficiency yet again. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of his game.
If you were to quibble with my opening premise, you would probably point to Watkins’s shooting numbers. That’s fair. Watkins is 34.6% from deep on the year, a mundane number for a wing prospect. His volume of 6.0 attempts per 100 possessions is moderate, too. While these aren’t groundbreaking numbers, they aren’t bad. Plus, Watkins has been on a consistent, upward trajectory as a shooter. His percentages have climbed from 28.9% to 34% (even after a year out due to injury!) to now 34.6%.
These percentages are even more impressive when looking at the breakdown of Watkins’ attempts. Because he’s the Seminoles’ primary initiator, little comes easy for him. He’s taken 26 threes this season, and 16 of those were off the dribble. Of his ten looks off the catch, only three were classified as unguarded, and he’s made all of those. This is a tough shot diet to live on, but Watkins is still producing at a healthy clip. In a lower-maintenance role where he got more clean looks, it’s easy to imagine that the numbers would look even better.
Watkins has slowly improved outside the arc, but he’s dramatically improved inside of it. Last year, Watkins performed quite poorly at the rim, making only 40.5% of his shots at the cup in the halfcourt, per Synergy. This year, despite taking a similar percentage of his shots in that same area of the floor, Watkins is up to 54.8%.
A lot of this has to do with Watkins’ approach at the basket. He’s always had a good first step, and he’s always welcomed contact as a high free-throw rate player. However, last year, he often drove into traffic and forced bad looks hoping to get a call. It didn’t matter if he had a poor angle on the rim, or if he was too far away to takeoff—he’d still put up a shot. Now, Watkins is being clever about it. He’s using more craft, wiggle, and contortion to get himself better looks as opposed to simply lobbing up the ball after running into somebody.
Watkins wasn’t shooting a low percentage because he was bricking easy ones. He didn’t have issues getting up above the rim, either. The touch and athleticism to be a good finisher were always within him. It’s just that Watkins was being too forceful. This year, he’s been putting himself in a better position to succeed, and he’s reaping the rewards.
Playmaking for Others
There aren’t a lot of 6’7”, 210-pound dudes playing college basketball who can move the ball like Jamir Watkins. He’s averaging 3.3 APG this season and often runs the show for Florida State. His 26.0 AST% is tremendous, and it compares favorably to players like Herb Jones, Grant Williams, and Kenrich Williams, who were all regarded as savvy operators coming out of college.
Most of Watkins’s possessions come as a ball screen operator. Currently, he ranks in the 73rd percentile on pick-and-roll possessions including assists, per Synergy. Because Watkins can get his own bucket at multiple levels, defenses have to pay attention to him, and he leverages his own gravity to set up others. He further accentuates this by mixing in hesitation and speed changes, making his own movements harder to telegraph. When help comes his way, Watkins is ready to punish it and find the open man, even if it requires a longer, more difficult pass. He’s able to make easy dishes to the roll man, sure, but he can also make sharp cross-court slings and fit balls through tight windows, too.
Even when he’s not the leader of the dance, Watkins does a good job of keeping things moving. He’s not a stop-and-survey player. His ability to act with decisiveness as an attacker or swing the ball in a timely manner keeps the offense flowing. He showed these connective skills on a consistent basis at VCU, and they’re still present today. When he moves onto the professional level, he won’t have to face an overwhelming adjustment as a “guy who needs to have the ball all the time.” He’s comfortable operating within the flow of the offense. Still, these reps, and the success he’s had in them, are quite encouraging. He’ll be ready to be a second-side creator at the next level.
Watkins does some excellent work on the defensive end. Because he’s long, strong, and fleet of foot, he’s able to smother his opponents. Most opponents can’t get around him, overpower him, or shake him. Here’s one of my favorite stats, courtesy of our good friends at Synergy. Last year, Watkins guarded 20 isolation possessions. On those possessions, his opponents scored five total points and turned the ball over six times. Testing Watkins at the point of attack is a foolish endeavor.
He’s good off the ball, too. Watkins’s mental sharpness carries over to the defensive end of the floor, too. He quickly recognizes mistakes and has the physical tools to spring into action quickly. His long strides, speed, and balance enable him to rotate and close out effectively. He’ll bust his tail in transition to prevent the opponent from getting easy buckets. Watkins competes on the glass, too. His 19.9 DREB% is in the same ballpark as players like PJ Washington and Tari Eason.
There’s so much to love here. Watkins should check the coveted multi-positional defender box. He’s got enough size and grit to fight it out with bigger players, but he also has the agility and length to make life a living hell for guards. His high level of awareness and his motor should give him everything he needs off-ball, too. His career STL% of 2.9 and BLK% of 2.4 both bode well, but even for someone with good playmaking metrics, Watkins doesn’t abandon his fundamental principles. Everything he does on this side of the ball feels scalable to NBA functionality.
When a prospect is well-rounded, there can be concerns about their lack of a signature skill. If a player doesn’t have one clear-cut thing to hang their hat on, getting onto an NBA floor can become more difficult. That can be short-sighted, though. Look at what Jaime Jaquez has been able to do for the Miami Heat. Sometimes, having NBA size, NBA strength, and an NBA mind can do the trick when a player is solid at several elements of the game as opposed to being great at one.
NBA teams can never have enough wings. Specifically, they want wings who can guard a wide variety of players, shoot the ball, finish inside, and make good decisions with the ball. Jamir Watkins is doing all of it. His numbers are staring us in the face. Right now, he slots in the early second round on my board. But as others who came into the year with more buzz continue to underachieve, Watkins could move into the first round if he continues his overachieving ways. He’s continued to improve despite an injury setback and a transfer up to a bigger program. His trajectory, modern skill set, size, and feel for the game make him too difficult to ignore. He’s doing everything, and it’s time to give him some credit.
Mid-Major Game of the Week
This week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week was another instant classic! Utah State managed to hold off Santa Clara, winning 84-82 in a game that went down to the wire.
The winners get to go first, so we’ll start on the Aggies side of things. I was most intrigued to get eyes on Great Osobor, who has been putting up mammoth numbers this season. The 6’8” junior big is averaging 18.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.9 BPG, and 1.0 SPG. He’s a force to be reckoned with from a physicality standpoint with a strong chest and broad shoulders. Still, he’s nimble and light on his feet. This makes him a big-time paint deterrent at the mid-major level. In this game, he finished with nine points on 3-for-14 shooting. In order to get on NBA radars, he’ll need to display more craft with the ball and expand his shooting range. Right now, he gets too out of control on the block and doesn’t anticipate help well, leading to him turning it over five times in this game. I love his frame and tenacity, though, so if he can refine his offensive game, I’d be interested.
Two guards absolutely cooked for the Aggies—Ian Martinez and Darius Brown II. Martinez is a 6’3” senior who just transferred in from Maryland but has found his footing. He’s a nice complementary guy who can shoot from deep, cut well, and has great touch inside. He’s been pesky on defense, too, with three steals and a block in this game. His 3.9 BLK% on the year is a ridiculous number for a guard. He’ll need to show more scoring and playmaking punch to get into the NBA mix. Brown is a 6’2” player in his sixth college season, which will likely stifle NBA interest. But man, he’s going to make some real money playing professional basketball. He’s averaging 7.9 APG to only 1.2 TOV. He’s a nasty shot maker from the mid-range and beyond, and he used that gravity to set up his drives. He can make slick dishes on the way to the cup. His ball screen manipulation and patience are top of the line. His play in the second half helped get Utah State across the finish line.
Adama-Alpha Bal has Santa Clara’s best player this year, and that was true in this game. In fact, I wish they’d gone to him more often. The 6’6” junior, who transferred in from Arizona, scored 18 points on ten shots in this one. Bal can make some tough ones from deep, and he did so on Wednesday night, going 2-for-4 from deep. But what makes him more interesting than your standard 6’6” shooter is his footwork and bailout scoring ability. He scored at all three levels, hitting tough mid-range jumpers and exploding off one to finish above the rim. He’s got potent speed and can use his footwork to generate space in multiple directions. His touch and knack for generating clean looks have him posting 14.9 PPG on 49.5/38.5/87.2 splits. Plus, he sees the floor and can dish it when defenders overhelp. On defense, his footwork and length force opponents into bad shots. Previously on the thin side, Bal has put on size and strength. He’s improving at a fast pace, and he’s one of the more well-rounded wings out there. It’s time to start monitoring him as a legitimate 2024 draft candidate.
I’ve long been a fan of Johnny O’Neil, a COVID-year junior transfer from American who I covered during my No Stone Unturned series alongside Jamir Watkins. At 6’10”, O’Neil is quick, and he uses that to cause problems on defense. His off-ball awareness, length, and sublime anticipation skills enabled him to rack up three steals on the night. Where O’Neil has stumbled out of the gate is with his jumper. A career 38.6% shooter from deep on the year, he’s only 30.8% this season, but he went 3-for-7 in this one. I’m hoping he gets back on track and finishes the year strong. Carlos Marshall, a 6’6”, powerfully built redshirt grad tallied 16 points on the night. He’s scored well all year, posting 14.1 PPG on 53.5/46.3/61.5 splits. Still, he gets too locked into getting his shot, doesn’t make plays for others often, and hasn’t brought much value on defense. It’s hard to write off a physically strong scorer with size, but more well-roundedness will be needed from Marshall down the stretch to generate NBA buzz.
Next week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week will be Tulane vs. George Mason! Make sure you’re following me on Twitter/X to vote in future Mid-Major Game of the Week polls!
-It’s time that I give some love to JL Bourg’s Zaccharie Risacher. I’ve found myself behind consensus on the French prospect since around U19s this summer. I still might be a tad behind his biggest supporters, but late lottery range feels too low in this class. He’s been dynamite as a scorer all year, posting 11.7 PPG on tidy 53.7/48.1/71.1 splits. I’ve long thought the efficiency would come back down to earth, and honestly, it probably still will. But at 18 years old and listed in the 6’8” to 6’10” range, he’s still a great shooting prospect for his size. He’s always done a great job guarding smaller players, and he’s a sharp off-ball defender. Now, he’s better adapted to the physicality of professional play. He’s making a real effort to play through contact better on offense. He’s finishing better and picking up his dribble when bumped far less frequently. This increased level of toughness makes him a more dangerous offensive player and a more imposing defender. He’s a rapidly improving, legitimate three-and-D prospect who has youth on his side. It’s tough to keep that guy lower on a board in this class.
-I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Terrence Shannon Jr. I’d largely moved on from the 6’6” Illinois graduate prior to this season, but he’s been great this year. Sure, he’s always had an NBA-ready body and a high level of athleticism. But now, he’s taking more threes than ever and hitting them at a 42.4% clip. It would feel foolish to be too low on him at this stage. Even in a “cold” game against Tennessee, he worked his tail off to get to the foul line. Still, I’m waiting to see what he looks like in conference play before fully jumping in the pool. Consistency has been an issue for him over the years, and with an older prospect, I want to make sure we’re past that hurdle before getting too excited.
-It’s great to see Aaron Bradshaw back on the court. Kentucky’s 7’0” freshman big man showed good touch around the basket and genuine confidence in his shot against Penn. His size made him a deterrent around the basket, and his feet allow him to comfortably guard tight on the perimeter. Still, he’s very easy to move on both ends of the floor, he needs to get stronger with the ball, and I worry about his hands. He also struggled with foul trouble issues in the North Carolina game. As a young big man, the strength stuff is to be expected, and he can work on that in time. That said, I am interested to see how he continues to respond to the physicality of high-major competition. If he can hang tough and adapt, it will be difficult to ignore such a talented player with his length.
-Now, it’s the part of my column where I gas up another No Stone Unturned prospect who’s been clicking! Wesley Cardet Jr., come on down! The 6’6” junior wing dropped 30 points in a win over Northwestern this past week, leading Chicago State to their first win over a ranked opponent in program history. He followed that up with a game-winner over Valparaiso on Saturday. Cardet is a real deal dribble-pass-shoot player, and he’s an intense, competitive point-of-attack defender. When I spoke with him this offseason, he noted that he wanted to work on his fitness levels, and it’s abundantly clear that he’s made a leap in that department. He’s noticeably slimmed down to great benefit. Cardet is still strong, tough, and physical, but now, he’s noticeably quicker. In a high-minute, high-usage role, he’s able to better maintain his output and production down the stretch thanks to his increased stamina. As I said this offseason, I was impressed by his professionalism, and his actions match his words. He’s been in my Top 100 all cycle, but it’s time to devote more time and attention to him, because he’s on the way up.
-Also, shoutout to More Stone Unturned prospect Kevin Cross. The 6’8” playmaker posted back-to-back triple-doubles this week. He’s always been considered a great passer for his size, but at the helm of Tulane’s offense this year, it’s never been clearer that he’s truly special in that regard. His defensive consistency has come along this season, too. He’s an older prospect, and the reliability his jumper has always been a question. But in a wide-open draft, a high-feel player with size who can cover a few positions is a guy who could work his way into the mix.
-Several members of our collective are in on Oklahoma sophomore Otega Oweh. To be quite honest, I’ve found myself lagging behind. His passing vision can leave a lot to be desired, and he has a bad tendency to try and force balls through non-existent windows. While his shot doesn’t look bad, he’s tentative from deep. At 6’5”, a reluctant shooter with a poor passing profile is scary to me. That said, I do think he’s a legitimately interesting long-term prospect. You won’t find a higher motor in college hoops. His nose for the glass, combined with his big-time springs and excellent timing, make him one of the most obscene sub-6’8” putback threats I’ve ever seen. He’s unbelievably strong. His instincts and tools have made him a ridiculously productive defender 4.1 STL%, 2.2 BLK%). I want to be clear—I like Oweh a lot, I just wouldn’t be in a rush to get him to the next level when the NBA is so offensively oriented. If you haven’t checked him yet this season, do yourself a favor and give him a watch. He’s a human highlight reel.
-Stanford’s Brandon Angel has emerged as one of my favorite deep cuts. The 6’8” senior has heavenly (see what I did there?!) shooting touch. He’s only taking 4.9 threes per 100 possessions, but the shot looks great, and he’s hitting 46.7% of them. He hit 39% from deep last year, too, so it’s not like he’s super outlier hot. It’s the touch inside the arc that’s truly wild, though. He attacks the basket with long strides and gets up well off one foot, and the ball always comes out of his hands perfectly. He’s converting a preposterous 78.1% of his twos this season. While he’s only a mediocre passer, it’s tough to find dudes his height that can score like he does. On defense, his productivity metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s light on his feet, and again, he’s a tall human being. Don’t be surprised to see Angel popping up on more boards soon.
-Here’s a deep cut for you: Jacksonville’s Robert McCray V. He’s a 6’4” redshirt sophomore guard who transferred in from Wake Forest, where he’d played sparingly. Now in a starring role, he’s been electric. He’s scoring 17.4 PPG on 51.9/34.0/70.6 splits. This lefty has serious range and can hit tough shots off the bounce. He’s got a slick handle and has some shake to him, which allows him to create openings for himself east-west and north-south. He’s got real pop off one foot, can finish above the rim, and can convert with either hand at the basket. On defense, he has big time speed to get into passing lanes, which is why he has a 3.1 STL%. He’s a solid table-setter for others, too. Keep an eye out for McCray down the road.