C.J. Watson exemplifies Bulls’ unselfish, productive bench
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org December 18, 2011 10:06PM
Updated: January 20, 2012 8:17AM
Perhaps the greatest testament to the Bulls’ depth came early in the first quarter of the exhibition victory Friday night over the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse. C.J. Watson replaced Derrick Rose when Rose uncharacteristically picked up two quick fouls, and the Bulls didn’t miss a beat as Watson had 15 points, four rebounds and an assist in 18 minutes, 35 seconds.
For Watson, it was a rare opportunity to showcase what he can do when allowed to step out of Rose’s shadow.
“It gets frustrating,” Watson said. “I want to play, but I’m playing behind one of the best point guards in the game and we’re winning. If we were losing, it would be a different story. I just want to go out there and play. I know each and every day I’m getting better going against him in practice, and hopefully I’m making him better, too. That’s all we can hope for.”
It’s one thing to have depth, as the Bulls clearly do. It’s another to have reserves willing to accept their roles. It has all come together with the Bulls, who have an unselfish group more concerned with winning than who scores and plays the most minutes.
That depth coupled with their attitude could be a big advantage while playing a condensed schedule in a conference in which several playoff contenders appear to lack depth.
“All our guys are pretty comfortable now playing with both groups,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s the luxury we have with the versatility of our players. When you have experienced guys, they know what they’re looking for. They know how to play with each other. We have a lot of guys comfortable playing with the first unit and a number of guys from the first unit who can play with the second.”
Watson led his Las Vegas high school team to two Nevada state championships before committing to Tennessee, where he played right away as a freshman. He had established himself as one of the SEC’s better point guards when Bruce Pearl was named coach before his senior season. Watson was reluctant about Pearl at first but soon flourished while playing Pearl’s faster-paced style.
“My senior year at Tennessee, he really let me play the way I wanted to play in an up-tempo system,” he said. “He set me free and let me do my thing. It was really a blessing.”
Here’s something else you probably don’t know about Watson’s college career: He once knocked out Joakim Noah’s tooth in a game against Florida.
“You should remind him about that,” Watson said. “He doesn’t want to mess with me.”
The undrafted Watson was the D-League’s third-leading scorer in 2007-08 when he signed with the Golden State Warriors. The Bulls acquired him in a trade before last season, and he averaged 4.9 points and 2.3 assists.
“C.J. is always C.J.,” Rose said. “He’s an attack-first point guard. He wants to get the feel for the game, and then he’s a scorer. He knows how to get to the line. He pushes the ball. He’s in great shape right now. He’s one of the reasons we came back [against the Pacers].”
Having so much depth often results in bruised egos and hurt feelings, but that hasn’t been the case with the Bulls, and newcomer Rip Hamilton doesn’t expect it to be.
“When you love each other and love your teammates, you don’t think about anything else but winning,” Hamilton said. “You cheer for your guys.”