With the 2020-2021 Michigan State men’s basketball season over, we will take individual looks at how each Spartan performed over the course of the season.
In our third edition of the series, we dive into the season for Mark “Rocket” Watts, who has recently entered the transfer portal. While he may never play another minute as a Spartan, let’s review his 2020-2021 campaign
Averages per game: 22.6 minutes, 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.1 steals, 33.6% fields goal percentage, 25.3% three point percentage, 78.0% free throw percentage
Rocket Watts was counted on to take over the point guard spot from Cassius Winston and while it was a tough task to ask of him (especially considering the offseason affected by the COVID-19 pandemic), he performed admirably early on. In his new role he showed a knack for setting up teammates off his penetration, moved the ball fairly well, and overall did a decent job of getting the team into its offense quickly. From the top of the key Watts found plenty of space to operate and make good use of his elite level handles. Overall, I think Watts performed solidly as a point guard early on in the season and there were encouraging signs for the future. As a scorer, he was extremely erratic throughout the year, but when he had his shot working he could put the team on his back for significant stretches.
His 20 points during a monumental out of conference road win at Duke were one of the early season highlights and he followed it up with his season high 23 points versus Detroit Mercy. During the Big Ten home win against Illinois, Watts scored 15 points (along with five assists), and then with his mother in the stands, he finished the regular season with 21 points against archrival Michigan, helping Michigan State find its way into the NCAA Tournament and keep Tom Izzo’s impressive March Madness streak alive (extending it to 23 consecutive appearances).
While he had a few strong individual games, Watts‘ overall season was a complete nightmare. Even with solid play out of the gates, he never seemed to mentally embrace the role of a lead guard and later struggled mightily to find a balance between setting up others and scoring by himself. Watts approached Izzo about a position change in midseason, which was granted, but even in what some feel is his more natural role as a two-guard, Watts continued to struggle mightily. At the end of the year,Watts was back in the point guard spot. Decision-making, scoring inside the paint, shot selection, you name it — nothing seemed to go right for Watts. After a solid freshman year (once he was healthy), his numbers dropped in every major category and his shooting percentages were beyond terrible. It really was a shame to see such a talented offensive player like Watts struggle as bad as he did throughout the year.
His spotty offense also started to impact his defense. Once one of his calling cards, especially early in his rookie campaign, the Detroit native never seemed to be ready for guarding his man with the needed amount of fire and lacked the foot speed to stay with opposing scoring guards. Physically, he at times didn’t seem right and maybe there were some minor injuries that set him back (just like in his first season). Mentally, it all took its toll apparently, and at some point, Watts just didn’t seem to have any confidence left. While he reportedly was a great teammate throughout the year, he just never seemed to find his place inside the rotation, in the coaches‘ strategy or in the hierarchy of the squad.
Watts has (most likely) played his last game in East Lansing, as he has entered the NCAA transfer portal. Based on Tom Izzo’s statement about Rocket’s decision to transfer, it seems Watts and Izzo mutually agreed that they needed a fresh start, each wishing the other well. It is really unfortunate to see the career of such a talented individual not turn out the way everyone envisioned it to happen. Watts was once considered to be an NBA-caliber prospect, but now he hopefully can just find a place where he can finish his college career in style. We wish him the best, even though we can’t give him a better grade for last year.
OVERALL SEASON GRADE