Mike Watkins Quietly Having A Stellar Freshman Year For Penn State
Mike Watkins has been turning in a productive freshman campaign for Penn State so far. There’s been a clear and steady improvement throughout the year for the 6-foot-9 forward out of Philadelphia, and the argument can be made that he’s been Penn State’s best player this season.
His strong performance against St. John’s at the Garden on Sunday earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors — becoming the first Penn State player to ever capture the award. Watkins tallied 15 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double on the young season in the winning effort against the Red Storm.
Through 12 games, Watkins is averaging 10.6 points per game to go along with a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game. The most valuable attribute that he’s brought to this young Nittany Lion team is his defensive presence at the rim. He’s currently averaging 3.3 blocks per game, which is good for fourth in the nation. His BPG average is the best that Penn State has seen since Calvin Booth’s 3.5 BPG in the 1998-1999 season.
“When [Watkins] gets engaged, he really gets us going,” Pat Chambers said about his big man’s defensive prowess. “Mike brings that juice, that energy, and that passion. He’s protecting the paint and protecting the rim for us.”
Chambers also mentioned that even though the blocked shots are nice, Watkins alters significantly more shots at the rim — which doesn’t show up on the stat sheet — that also contributes to the value that he brings to the defense. Watkins has an impressive 88.6 defensive rating — an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions — which is good for tenth in the Big Ten. His defensive rating is the best by a Penn State player since the stat became official in the 2009-2010 season by almost nine points.
Penn State has used its defense this year to spring itself on the fast break and transition. Pushing the tempo is something that Chambers mentioned on media day this year that the team wants to do this season, and the team has been able to do so thanks to Watkins’ presence at the rim defensively and his rebounding ability. “He gets us out on the break so we can get easy baskets and uncontested shots,” Chambers said. “That’s what Mike can do for us. To have someone like that is important to our team and our defense.”
Watkins has clearly been one of the best game-changers that Penn State has seen in recent memory on the defensive end. Since the 1993-1994 season, Watkins is one of only four players in the Big Ten to average at least 10 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks per game. The other three that had these averages are players that have NBA experience including Booth, Greg Oden, and Joel Przybilla.
Watkins has also been very steady on the offensive end as well. He’s shooting 56 percent from the floor this year, which is the best mark on the team. He also has a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.8 which is also the best Penn State has seen since the 2009-2010 season when the stat first became available. With each game, Watkins is growing more and more comfortable around the paint on the offensive end, and his production is reflects that.
The best thing about Watkins is that he’s only a freshman, and still has lots of time to grow as a player. Coming into the season he was slightly overshadowed by the incoming trio of freshmen from Roman Catholic, but Watkins has let his play on the floor show that he’s been one of the best freshmen in the conference so far. He’s made his presence known, and he’s looking to be a force once conference play starts soon. The Nittany Lions have a bright future, and Watkins seems to be carrying the torch producing one of the more productive seasons in recent memory.