JuJu Watkins is the most talented women's player we've ever seen

What do Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers have in common? Besides being generational talents, neither has the potential of Juju Watkins.

JuJu Watkins celebrating with teammates after a win over Kansas in the Second Round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament
JuJu Watkins celebrating with teammates after a win over Kansas in the Second Round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

I can already hear the backlash shooting at me from all corners of America. "How dare you suggest that JuJu Watkins is a superior player to Caitlin Clark, the literal face of women's college basketball! Sacrilegious! How dare you place Watkins ahead of USC legend Cheryl Miller! Blasphemy! You don't know ball!"

Almost all is fair in basketball discourse, and so I welcome any detractors to my crowning of JuJu Watkins with open arms. I only preface these discussions with the following reminder, and I kindly ask that all take careful notice:

When evaluating player talent, variables like a player's age and the era they played in matter. Eye test matters, too.

While it appears easy to assert that Caitlin Clark is a better player right now than JuJu Watkins, you have to take into account that Clark, 22, is nearing the end of her college career, whereas JuJu Watkins at just 18 years old is only getting started. Paige Bueckers (22) also finds herself in a separate age bracket from Watkins.

As such, here's the real question to ask: is JuJu better now than Clark was at 18? The answer, my friends, is an overwhelming yes.

In fact, even if you're comparing JuJu Watkins to current Caitlin Clark, you'd be hard-pressed to name any skill that Clark excels at markedly better than Watkins besides long-range shooting. Clark's elite assist numbers (9.0 assists per game, first in the nation) separate her from Watkins as a passer right now, but JuJu's potential as a playmaker is just as potent, and assist numbers throughout her career are likely to fluctuate according to USC's personnel and team needs.

Watkins' gravity as a scorer will only increase over the next three seasons, attracting increasing defensive attention and resulting in open, high-percentage looks for her teammates. Already a legitimate threat from 3, Watkins' inevitable maturity as a distance shooter will also enhance her gravity in the eyes of defenses.

We're seeing this now with Clark. Defenses will go over every ball screen involving Clark and always extend at least two defenders into her air space whenever she's inside 25 feet, creating gigantic loopholes in the defense for Iowa's cuttings wings and bigs to exploit with a slick dime from Clark.

Watkins has the kind of point guard vision that can pick apart double teams in this fashion, but she's so gifted athletically and as a ball handler, that she's often able to attack increased pressure and create an even better look for herself without having to give the ball up. It's important to acknowledge Caitlin Clark as the best passer in America, but it's equally as important to realize that Watkins would likely average more than 3.3 assists per game if her scoring could be compromised by a defense in any way.

Minus the Steph Curry DNA, JuJu has a comparable offensive skill set to Clark, but she presents an entirely larger problem for defenses from a physical standpoint. Watkins is a superior defender and rebounder to Clark for the same reasons, and her favorable size, strength, and agility also make her the more fluid offensive player of the two, something you can notice as JuJu comes off of ball screens or activates her effortless Euro step in transition.

There's certainly no one like Caitlin Clark, but JuJu Watkins is a more well-rounded basketball player, even at the present moment. Coming to realistic terms with how Watkins and Clark compare as players side-by-side only reveals the utterly unprecedented potential of Watkins, especially since Clark is widely seen as the best player in America and the consensus No.1 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft.

What will JuJu Watkins look like as a player in three years, when she's the age that Clark and Bueckers currently are? The idea is horrifying to any college team not named USC, not to mention all WNBA franchises except the one that gets to ultimately draft Watkins. As a 6-foot-2 lead guard, Watkins presents an even greater mismatch for defenders than players like Clark and WNBA legend Diana Taurasi, who are both considered big point guards at 6-feet with elite skill.

What's even more indicative of JuJu's rare talent is that, despite her superior size for position, she moves with greater coordination, grace, and body control than any other player on the court. If you've watched basketball for many years, it will only take you two minutes of watching JuJu to immediately recognize that she has "it", athletically speaking.

Then again, if you're skeptical about eye test evaluations, feel free to look at the numbers: they'll do nothing but reiterate Watkins' singularity.

Statistically, JuJu Watkins just completed the best freshman season of all time. JuJu's 920 total points are the most ever scored by a freshman in the history of women's college basketball, and her 14 games with 30+ points represent a USC record (for women's AND men's hoops) as well as the national best for a freshman women's player over the last 25 seasons (Caitlin Clark scored 30+ in 12 games as a freshman).

Additionally, JuJu delivered NCAAW's top single-game scoring performance this season when she exploded for 51 points (another USC record) in a road win over Stanford, evaporating Stanford's 27-game winning streak at home in Pac-12 play.

As you witness JuJu Watkins shatter USC records, please remind yourself that USC is the alma mater of Cheryl Miller, who most people view as the greatest women's college basketball player ever.

By the way, it's not just about scoring for JuJu. She was the only player in the nation to average both multiple steals per game and 1.5 blocks per game, plus the only player in the nation to be in the top 75 for both steals and blocks this season, accomplishments that are the result of JuJu's incredible size, athleticism and feel for the game on both ends.

If we are witnessing the Golden Age of women's college basketball (as many are proclaiming), it follows that modern women's players are the best we have ever seen. This certainly makes sense given the evolution of the sport along with the general improvement of player skill over time (men's basketball is not exempt from this historical trend, either).

There are historically elite players in every era, and we cannot diminish a player's value just because they played during the 1980s. What we can do is recognize how the game and its players have changed during this timespan. If JuJu Watkins had come up in the 1980s, she would have almost certainly been encouraged to play the forward position, as was the case for Cheryl Miller (also 6-foot-2).

Yet, as the sport evolves and improves, the ceiling for players rises. A 6-foot-2 point guard with elite athleticism and three-level scoring would have been incomprehensible years ago in the women's game, even more so coming from an 18-year-old freshman.

Yet in 2024, this has just been an ordinary day at the office for JuJu Watkins.