After Denver Nuggets first round pick Peyton Watson struggled in the first game of Summer League, it was clear just how far he still had to go as a player before he could contribute to the Nuggets ultimate goal of winning a NBA title.
He was timid on both ends of the court, would get sped up, made bad decisions and was unable to showcase just how many gifts he has to give on a basketball court.
With that being said, everything flipped for Watson in Denver’s second game of Summer League.
Yes, on Sunday night Watson still had turnover issues, he missed defensive rotations, he rushed possessions and he had moments of bad decision making, but in addition to his shortcomings, all of the skills that made him such a tantalizing prospect for the Nuggets finally revealed themselves as well.
Suddenly, he was forcing the Cavaliers to play offense on only one side of the court because his length and athleticism had eliminated any chance of productive offense if he was within one step of the action. He was playing with a tenacity and freedom on both ends of the court that was absent in his debut. His playmaking and size around the rim became focal points of the Nuggets offensive attack. Watson was making an impact in transition and as a rebounder.
Suddenly, Watson looked like a player who could be an elite defender and a connector on offense in time; specifically the type of player Calvin Booth and his team have been looking to add all offseason. He was no longer timid or overthinking each movement. Instead, he was flying around and creating advantages.
By the time the game ended and the Nuggets had secured the victory, it was Watson who led them in scoring with 19 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. Watson was just 1-4 from three-point range, but he shot 7-8 inside the arc. Oh, and he added on seven rebounds, two steals and a block for good measure in his 30 minutes of action.
From the opening tip, Watson made it a point to be more involved and play more controlled which allowed his passing to shine. Only 30 seconds had past and it was Watson who set up a pick-and-roll with Ismael Kamagate to create the Nuggets first bucket of the night.
On offense, Watson’s best skill is his passing and playmaking. Due to being six-foot-eight with a seven-foot wingspan, Watson is supersized as a guard or wing which gives him access to passing lanes and angles that others simply cannot access due to their physical constraints. Just look at the clip above for evidence of what advantages his height creates. Even with a wing switched onto him, Watson was able to make the pass over the top of the defense because he can simply look over the top of the defense.
It appears Watson realizes that because he had a handful of moments on Sunday night in which he simply passed over the defense to set up his teammates; most commonly Ismael Kamagate.
Kamagate ultimately commits a turnover by throwing the ball out of bounds in the clip below, but seeing Watson grab a rebound, initiate the offense, pull up for a triple and shift in mid-air to set up Kamagate on the short roll is a great sign.
That pass shows that Watson has feel as a creator when he gets out of his own way. He was not rushing and did not look anxious. He was just instinctually playing basketball. Watson also used his height again to create a better passing angle.
As Watson continued to find more and more comfort on the court, the rest of his game began to blossom. He was finding seams in the defense to cut off the ball which allowed him to showcase his above-the-rim finishing.
Watson is not an elite athlete, but that could have a lot to do with him still growing into his frame. When he has time to load up and get his feet planted, his explosion can look better than advertised like in the clip above.
Also, the timing of his cut and his patience waiting for the ball to find him are both impressive. He delayed his cut until the defense committed to Collin Gillespie’s drive which allowed the former Villanova point guard to find Watson waiting in the paint for the powerful dunk.
The vertical athleticism that Watson possesses can help him grow as a scorer in other ways as well. So long as Watson plays with the requisite tenacity, he can be a terror on the offensive glass when he crashes the boards from the perimeter.
Not many guards or wings can physically handle Watson around the rim when he has a full head of steam. So long as Watson remains committed to finding bends in the opposing defense to score without the ball, he could have a tremendous impact in time as an offensive rebounder and cutter.
Still, the last key to Watson's offensive game is developing a jumper. He hit a 3-pointer late in Denver’s win over Cleveland, which essentially iced the game for the Nuggets, but he has a long ways to go as a jump shooter.
Seeing him calling for the ball to unload a triple is encouraging. He has to be willing to shoot or he will never improve. His mechanics as a shooter are not the quickest and he has had some erratic misses in the first two Summer League games, but his jumper does not look broken. If he can become a passable three-point shooter, his game will expand dramatically.
(As a side note, look at that defensive contest he has before the Nuggets get back on offense. Good luck shooting with Watson closing out.)
The game did not only slow down for Watson on offense. On defense, his ability to disrupt and cover ground was significantly more controlled. Look at the clip below where Watson is in the right corner and he virtually eliminates any offensive action near him.
Cleveland tries to drive to the same side Watson is on so he digs down and halts the attempt. The ball gets swung back to the corner — Watson’s assignment — so he closes back out and smothers his opponent into calling for a dribble handoff. Watson fights over the screen anyway and stays on his hip despite slightly trailing to force the ball out of his hands. After his man gets off the ball, Watson stays in the paint and splits the difference between his man and the big with the ball near the rim allowing Watson to help protect the rim and keep close to his man. Eventually, Watson's disruption of the opposing offense leads to a forced turnover giving the Nuggets a newfound possession.
That is textbook defense from Watson.
What gives Watson such a cathedral-high ceiling as a defender is the combination of his physical gifts, reaction time and effort. That cocktail allows Watson to cover more ground effectively than most of the league in theory.
Look at Watson slide down from the corner to help at the rim just as he should in this defensive scheme. He eliminates the chance for an uncontested layup, but the Cavaliers do exactly what they should do against a defense already in rotation; they kick to the open shooter.
This is specifically the action that could make Watson a devastating defender. It is incredibly hard to slide into the paint to protect the rim and then get all the way back out to the three-point line to contest a shot from beyond the arc, but the players who have the mobility to cover that much space, the size to protect the rim and the quickness to runoff the three-point shooter can be counted on one hand. His foundational defensive skills are immense and speak to why the Nuggets drafted him with a first round pick and why they are excited about his potential.
When you add together his defensive disruption and his offensive skill, he can become a player who thrives on turning defense into offense.
All it takes is Watson using his length against the inbound and he grabs the seal, pushes the pace, drives right by his defender and finishes with his left hand through contact.
Clearly, there are concerns about Watson’s gaps in his game as evidenced by his debut on Friday night, but after seeing him shine on Sunday night on both ends of the floor, it is easy to understand why the Nuggets are so excited about his future as a basketball player.