Denver Nuggets: What does the future hold for Peyton Watson?

The Denver Nuggets took a flier on a high-upside wing with the 30th pick at the 2022 NBA Draft, selecting the UCLA wing, Peyton Watson. With bucketloads of potential, what is the team hoping to get out of the prospect in the short-term and long into the future?

Scoring wings are very hard to find in the current NBA and for contending teams, there’s always a use for size on the perimeter. The Denver Nuggets took a chance on a very raw prospect with the final pick of the first round and if it pays off, the reward could be huge for the viability of this team in the long term.

At 6’8″ with a 7’0″ wingspan, the physical tools are there for Watson but given his positional value across the league, what made him drop in the draft? At only 19 years old, Peyton will be one of the youngest players in the league next season but his single season with the Bruins gave scouts a lot of questions.

Yes, his physicals are excellent and some flashy dunks at the 2022 Summer League showed that he has NBA athleticism, but he has struggled mightily to shoot the ball. In his 32 games with UCLA, Watson came off the bench and averaged 3.3 points while shooting 36 percent from the floor and 23 percent from the 3-point line.

Yeah… not the greatest counting stats.

In his best Summer League showing, Watson scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers en route to a victory. He hit some impressive 3-pointers and showed off some handy finishes through contact and in transition.

After the game, he told Mike Singer, The Denver Post that he could handle the workload:

“I didn’t play a lot at UCLA. I feel like a lot of people kind of forgot what I can do when I’m out there on the floor… I’m just out here proving something to myself. I don’t care what anybody else says on social media or how people try to paint me. I know who I am.”

And on the defensive side of the ball, his length was clearly bothering some of the ball handlers in Las Vegas. However, it’s worth noting that most of his opponents at Summer League aren’t NBA talents and his frailty will be exposed when he plays an NBA game.

T.J. McBride, Denver Stiffs has similar questions of Watson’s role in the NBA but if he hits his best-case scenario, it’s clear there are things he does well on the court:

“Can Watson harness his length and size as a guard/wing to become a devastating cutter, surprisingly-effective offensive rebounder and dependable passer who uses his size to create passing lanes and angles others simply cannot reach? Can his 3-point shot become at least passable? Will his dedication to the defensive end of the floor allow him to grow into a defender who can play a team-centric defensive scheme while also being a terrifying isolation defender?”

These questions will likely limit the wing’s role for the 2022-23 season. Michael Malone has traditionally stuck with veterans that he trusts since this Nuggets team became a consistent playoff presence. This doesn’t bode well for Peyton Watson and his NBA floor time.

We’ll likely see Watson playing for the Grand Rapids Gold much of next season. If he does play for the Nuggets, he’ll be stuck behind a deep perimeter rotation, especially if he’s more of a 2-3 defender given his youth and lack of strength.

The long-term prospects are very interesting and it’s likely why we saw Calvin Booth reach on the wing. Assuming it takes Watson a few seasons to learn the NBA game, he’ll be a welcome addition on the wing a few seasons from now when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown come off the books.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will be anchoring this team for years to come but if all hits, Malone could have a very young, athletic guard rotation of Jamal, Bones Hyland, and Watson in a few years’ time.

A downside in joining a contending team is that Peyton Watson likely won’t gain much NBA experience but there’s a road ahead if he is to develop into the 3-and-D wing with the upside that he was projected to be. He’s just at the start of that journey.