Trendon Watford making most of Nets opportunity as free agency looms

After pulling off come-from-behind wins over the Pacers and Pistons despite their own elimination from playoff contention, the Nets were blown out by the Kings on Sunday night in a shorthanded 107-77 loss.

Yet, it was a loss that provided plenty of insight into the future.

With Nic Claxton (left ankle sprain), Cam Johnson (left big toe sprain) and Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee effusion) all sitting out with injuries, there was ample playing time for Nets brass to observe and evaluate players who may or may not stick for next season.

Nets forward Trendon Watford makes a move as the Kings’ Keegan Murray defends on Sunday night at Barclays Center. Corey Sipkin

Players such as Trendon Watford.

The Nets’ newly established sixth man is an example of a youthful opportunity to invest in, as he is a pending free agent who has recently elevated his play.

Watford, 23, has averaged 13.1 points on 57.1 percent shooting overall and 47.4 percent from 3-point range in 23.5 minutes per game over the past eight games.

It’s a significant boost from his overall 6.6 point average on 53.4 percent shooting this season in 60 games.

Nets forward Trendon Watford (9) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James
Nets forward Trendon Watford (9) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. Noah K. Murray-NY Post

A third-year pro, Watford averaged 7.5 points on 54.7 percent shooting in 18.6 minutes per game during his first two NBA seasons with the Trail Blazers.

“[Watford is] always ready. He’s always real positive whenever he’s on the bench or whether he’s on the court, just giving us good energy,” Claxton said following a loss to the Pacers on April 1 in which Watford scored 21 points off the bench. “And you see now he’s getting his opportunity and he’s making the best of his reps.”

Watford is playing on a $2 million minimum contract with the Nets, who will have the option to extend him a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.

The forward had a statistically strong outing in the blowout loss against the Kings, recording 16 points, seven rebounds, and two assists in 33 minutes.

However, his performance also yielded a minus-36, similar to the dreadful plus/minus marks that rookies Jalen Wilson and Noah Clowney put up in rare extended minutes.

“They just got to continue to learn, play through these situations and just learn from each other,” interim coach Kevin Ollie said of the youngsters. “These are competitive games, Sacramento is still playing for seeding in the playoffs, so these teams are gonna still play aggressively and play hard, but these minutes are crucial for their learning growth, getting some valuable minutes so they can have some great experiences coming back for next year.”

Clowney earned his first career start while Wilson his third.

They played for 35 and 32 minutes, respectively, but were a minus-26 and minus-10 while on the court.

Watford’s elevated minutes also gives the remaining starters more reps with a potential long-term piece before the season concludes.

“We’ve just gotta keep building. I think just keep playing the right way, keep playing hard,” Mikal Bridges said Sunday. “Around this time, especially when you’re away from the playoffs, it can get selfish and you just kinda gotta get off that hump and continue to play together because obviously there’s no playoffs or anything but it’s just building to next year as well. … Being on the same court with these young guys so next year it won’t be like we never played together.”


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