The Denver Nuggets selected UCLA freshman Peyton Watson with the 30th selection in the 2022 NBA Draft. At 6’8” 200 lbs. with a 7’0” wing span Watson is a very athletic, bouncy wing with upside potential. In his only season with UCLA, the freshman logged 12.7 minutes, 3.3 points, and 2.9 rebounds per game. Watson did not earn as many minutes as he would have liked, but he was sitting behind the upperclassman of a UCLA team that made the elite eight for two straight seasons.
In summary, Watson is a raw prospect at the young age of 19. With that being said, he does have the athletic tools to compete in the NBA. He does not profile to be a score-first player, instead, his current strengths lie on the defensive end. Although Denver desperately needs defensive help this upcoming season, it is expected that Watson refines his skills with Denver’s G-League affiliate Grand Rapids Gold until he is ready to grace the NBA hardwood.
NBA Comparison: When I think of Peyton Watson, I see a Derrick Jones Jr./ Herb Jones type of player. His current skillsets relate more to Derrick Jones Jr with his supreme athleticism and unrefined offensive game. Herb Jones was a more NBA-ready prospect coming out last season, but Watson has all the tools to impact the game at the level Jones did for the Pelicans last season.
Although Watson might not be the most skilled wing in the draft, he is one of the most athletic. He has quick twitch, bouncy movements that are ideal for defending NBA wings and guards. His natural talent allows him to guard 1-4 with quick feet, and his lanky frame can provide tight contests of jump shooters. The most exciting part of his game to Nuggets fans should be his ability to block shots and create steals. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 1.9 blocks and steals per contest, so if he is given adequate playing time, his defensive prowess will be on display.
Many offensive actions are tailored around the screening game in the NBA and Watson has the ability to prevent such actions. He is slippery in these situations, so he can slip screens fairly smoothly, and his quick twitch ability will allow him to recover quickly. At the wing position, he is also a very strong rebounder, averaging 9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.
Take a look at Peyton Watson here. Active hands, skinny through screens. Absolute monster possession of on ball defense here. pic.twitter.com/TUJDRwV3N0— Larry Golden (@_LarroHoops) July 5, 2021
Although Watson has struggled with his jump shot, he is still capable of being a force on the offensive end. Some scouts say he has underrated ball-handling ability which has created success in straight-line drives to the rim, and he has shown soft touch around the rim to finish over taller defenders. It is not great touch just yet, but it is there. Scouts also praise his feel in the passing game. He is an unselfish player who can be too unselfish at times, but in this Nuggets system, it is imperative to be able to analyze the entire floor.
His largest weakness to this point appears to be his scoring efficiency. He shot 32% from the field and 23% from three in his freshman season. Since he has the ability to create in ISO situations, he has been prone to hoisting questionable shots, but that notion can be understood when he was not entirely sure of his role with that UCLA team. Although some say he can provide strong basketball IQ, he does have the tendency to over-dribble resulting in turnovers. Scouts say this is a product of his inclination to rush shots, as he has not appeared to be a comfortable, smooth jump shooter just yet.
Another weakness is his frame, but that is a con to the majority of draftees. He is lightweight for his size, and if he does not build more weight and strength, he will be taken advantage of when bigger players get their bodies into him. The NBA is moving towards positionless basketball and that is exactly what Watson is— a positionless prospect. With that ability of course comes the responsibility to guard all positions. He has the raw talent to do so at a college level, but at the NBA, he will need to fill out before he can handle stronger players at both ends of the court.
The appears to be a pick for the future. Yes, I am like many of you Nugget fans who wanted an NBA-ready player or to trade those first-round picks into a proven veteran piece. Although that did not seem to happen with this pick, we should not turn our back on this prospect. Kevin Durant tweeted during the draft, “It’s a wings league.” Yes, Watson is a raw prospect, but his athleticism is rare, and if the Nuggets can develop him correctly for a couple of years, this could be a steal in the draft. With that being said, Denver’s championship window is closing as other Western Conference foes continue to enhance their chances at a ring. It is expected by many that Watson does not suit up for the Nuggets for a couple of years, so this pick does not help them win a championship this season. But I will end on this note.
We have no idea the mentality that is in between the ears of Peyton Watson. He already has the raw talent to compete at a high level. He did not receive adequate playing time at UCLA, so he could be playing with a chip on his shoulder. We’ve seen players like Gary Payton II and Alex Caruso come out of the G-League and impact winning, championship basketball. Today’s society is so focused on immediate results, we often forget the process that forges champions. Since high school, Watson has added more than 20 lbs. to his frame, so he has shown the will to improve. If Peyton Watson is truly a hungry, gritty player we so often yearn for in Denver, he could be another fan favorite and possibly a piece that helps Denver compete for a championship.