Peyton Watson played 27 minutes in a loss to the Phoenix Suns last Friday night. That sentence seems vague and meaningless, but it opened a galaxy of opportunity for head coach Michael Malone and the Denver Nuggets. Watson, drafted 30th overall in the 2022 NBA draft, was seen as a project prospect – a player who needed extra development to reach his full potential. For 95% of the 2022-2023 regular season, Watson was treated as nothing more than a developmental project. As a two-way player, Watson spent half of the season playing for the Grand Rapids Gold – the G-League affiliate of the Denver Nuggets. The other half was spent with the team, participating in practices and warming the bench during games.
Peyton Watson was Denver’s Missing Piece All Along
Watson is a defensive-minded, athletic 6’7 (7’0 wingspan) forward averaging 22 PPG and 6.6 RPG for the Grand Rapids Gold.
Coming into Friday’s game against Phoenix, Watson finally received his time to shine, with many rotation players listed as unavailable. He finished with five points, eight rebounds, and two blocks, but his most impressive moments weren’t tallied on the box score.
Though Durant scored 30 points, as KD does on a nightly basis, Watson was able to keep up with Durant throughout the game. The clip above displays Watson’s incredible lateral movement, patience (an area which most young players struggle with), and length. Watson fought through the screen, stayed glued onto KD, and finished with a strong close-out. Reminder: this was his first legitimate NBA game.
I love this Watson possession against TJ Warren too. The footwork, the patience, the close-out.
The only Nugget to finish the game with a positive +/- was none other than Peyton Watson.
Last Sunday, Watson continued to shine in a win at home against Golden State. Let these highlights show you:
The acrobatic finish.
The big slam.
Peyton Watson providing the ENERGY during the @nuggets 4th quarter surge!
They lead late on NBA TV. pic.twitter.com/EL58Xt2WUp
— NBA (@NBA) April 3, 2023
Even with just these two plays, it’s simple to understand what Watson brings to the floor on offense. Energy, effort, and athleticism. His 7-foot wingspan makes it easy to recover missed shots and gain an extra possession. Additionally, though not shown in this clip, Watson stays within his shot selection and makes the right decisions. He doesn’t force passes or take bad shots. Yes, this is a very small sample size, but it’s a promising sign for a rookie playing most of his minutes in the G-League.
Watson recorded three blocks against the defending champs(should have been four with a missed goaltending call). This was my favorite of the three:
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 3, 2023
Steph Curry has embarrassed defenses with this finger roll for years. Watson wasn’t having any of it.
Rookies makin' noise 🗣 pic.twitter.com/7eoaQ5kyt7
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 3, 2023
He wasn’t having any of this either.
Watson guarded Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and a pinch of Kevon Looney in crunch time. If you forgot, that core won the NBA title last year. This defensive versatility is what the Nuggets have been looking for throughout the Nikola Jokic era. Despite his tremendous performances these past few games, I doubt Watson will enter the playoff rotation unless a catastrophe arises. There is just too little of a sample size to pop a rookie with two games of NBA experience into a playoff series. However, I fully expect Watson to be a critical part of Denver’s rotation next season. The Denver Nuggets community is keen on comparing Jaden Mcdaniel’s role in Minnesota to what Watson can bring to Denver.
Fellow rookie Christian Braun has been exceeding expectations as well. Drafted nine spots before Watson, Braun has been in and out of the Nuggets rotation this year. Like Watson, Braun is a defensive-focused player – but offers more on the offensive end with decent three-point shooting.
I’m glad that Malone took the time to give Watson real NBA experience. The Nuggets now have a real scent of what he can bring to the floor instead of taking a guess coming into next season. Denver’s future is bright, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.