Nuggets rookie Peyton Watson was recently assigned to the Grand Rapids Gold, the Nuggets’ G-League affiliate. This was so that he could get more reps in and develop by playing in games — something that wouldn’t be happening if they kept him on the main roster. This opportunity for him brings an opportunity for us to get to see his game develop in the open, and in his first two games he’s made the most of those opportunities — averaging 24 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 3 steals per game, and 3.5 blocks per game.
Peyton Watson has shown why there was hype surrounding him out of high school, and why even after a bad year at UCLA people are still excited about his future. He has shown defensive tenacity, good hustle, and flashes of a talented offensive player.
It was crystal clear from the jump that Peyton Watson is a gifted defender. His physical tools are ideal in a modern NBA — a 7’0.5” wingspan and a fairly fluid mover give him the size to match with bigger forwards, and he can keep up and disrupt guards as well. On this specific play, he is able to keep up with Kendall Brown stride for stride and send the shot off the backboard. He starts at a disadvantage, having to get around a screen, but he quickly catches up with Brown. Then, in the blink of an eye is able to jump and prevent easy points from being scored. The lack of load time is impressive.
His next block came just a minute later — this time in transition as a help defender. He trails Kendall Brown, who is able to get by Norris Cole with ease, but is met by Peyton Watson. Peyton Watson then, for the second time in a minute, sends Kendall Brown’s layup off the backboard — getting to the ball above the smaller square on the backboard.
His rim protection seems to be a legitimate threat to anyone who encounters him at the hoop. Even if he’s not blocking the shot, he gives shooters a tough time trying to get around him which results in a lot of altered shots. He played the low man fairly frequently in the two games against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants where he deterred many attempts at the rim.
He uses his wingspan well, and is a disruptive defender because of it. There are some players with long wingspans that don’t do much with their length, but Peyton knows how to use his advantages. He gets in passing lanes, gets up for blocks, and gets into guys making it hard for them to get around him.
He also had a lot of hustle and intensity. On the play above, as soon as the ball is loose he makes a play for it — he’s rewarded for it with a big dunk. Intensity was a big focus for him this offseason. I asked him about his focuses this offseason with the coaching staff and he told me, “Just really attention to detail and intensity for me. I’ve been working out with an extreme amount of intensity and I feel like that’s carried over into the game. You see that intensity and you see I’m out there trying to make things happen in the time I am out there.”
He’s also working on knowing the game better. When I asked him about what he does with the coaching staff to ensure he’s ready to contribute he told me, “Just watching film, understanding how the NBA game was played. Learning the NBA game – there’s a lot of nuances and details that you have to learn and pick up on as a young player and I’m picking those up and look forward to using them out there on the court.”
He also stated that his mindset is a big part of why he has been able to make it to the NBA, and why he thinks he can find success at the NBA level, “I’m super comfortable and I give all the credit to the player development staff. They’ve done a good job of just keeping me sharp. Just throughout the offseason and this summer and going into season so that’s been big. But it all comes from a mentality standpoint for me you know? I feel like I’ve been able to compete at this level since I was even younger than this so I’m ready to contribute at the pro level and I can’t wait to.”
With the Gold, Peyton has been getting reps as a secondary creator and initiator. He’s had flashes of being capable in this role too — like in the clip above where he makes a pocket pass to Jack White after drawing help from defenders on the drive. As a passer, he has a good feel for the game and often has the right idea for passes. Sometimes though, the ball won’t quite get there, or he can drive into defenders without much of a plan resulting in a high amount of turnovers.
So far with the Gold, Peyton Watson is averaging 4.5 turnover per game — a small sample of two games could be causing a bit of inflation but it is something he has to iron out over this season. His decision making and shooting can sometimes leave things to be desired, but he is just a rookie and was expected to need development.
Another area where development will be needed is his jump shot. He hasn’t been a plus shooter at UCLA, or in the minutes he’s gotten with the Nuggets. His willingness to take those shots is encouraging though, and is a sign that he won’t be a non-shooter. It’s not likely that he will reach a 40% mark in his career, but if he can be serviceable that can be good enough if he also becomes a lock down defender like the front office believes he can be.
With those flaws, some fans may be concerned. However, he is just 20 years old, and this is the time to get those mistakes out of the way so that when the Nuggets call his number and need him — he’ll be ready. There are a myriad of things to be encouraged about in regards to Peyton’s game, and if I had to bet I think he’ll be ready when the Nuggets give him the chance.