There was concern regarding the Denver Nuggets’ bench and depth to begin the season. The loss of Bruce Brown and Jeff Green would negatively impact the effectiveness of bench units, which were pretty abysmal to begin with. The Nuggets needed the rest of the roster to step up to make up for these losses. And one young player in particular answered the call: Peyton Watson.
Watson was the 30th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. As an incredibly raw 19-year-old prospect who played limited minutes at UCLA as a freshman, Watson was seen as a long-term project before he was able to contribute to a winning NBA team. However, it looks like he is ready right now.
Watson’s physical and athletic tools were evident even before he made it to the NBA. He is wiry and athletic with an impressive wingspan and long strides. How fluid and effortless he is as an athlete on the court jumps out immediately. The questions about him were about how quickly he was going to be able to apply all of this raw athleticism to a championship-level team.
The early returns after the first three games of the season have been extremely encouraging. His 17 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block performance on 8-for-11 shooting in 21 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder last Sunday could be a sign of what’s to come for the 21-year-old.
Watson looks like he was created in a lab to play next to Nikola Jokic. Thanks to his similar size, strengths, and weaknesses, he is the perfect substitute for Aaron Gordon, allowing the Nuggets to play the same way with Gordon on the bench. The Denver Nuggets can rest easily knowing they have quality backups, like Watson, for their star players.
Watson has become a good cutter, reading the action well and catching passes from Jokic on the move. Then, he can use his size, length, and athleticism to rise over defenders to finish around the rim. He already had a few acrobatic finishes to begin the season, including an impressive reverse baseline dunk against the Thunder.
He also started the season hitting his three-pointers. Perhaps the biggest concern about Watson’s game was his lack of shooting, but he might be able to quell those concerns if he continues to hit 4/9 from downtown as he has done so far. His willingness to take the open three helps open up the floor for Denver, making it easier on his teammates.
His fit is equally seamless on the defensive end. He already has five blocks through three games, and he has had an impressive rim protection play in every single game so far. Not only does his length bother players at the rim, but he also has good instincts and reaction speed to alter shots in the paint. He can improve his strength and rebounding, but that should not be an issue as long as he plays next to Jokic.
Watson should play as many minutes as he can with Jokic, not only for his development but also for the Nuggets’ success. A player who can run the floor, cut to the basket, finish in traffic, and defend on the other end is a valuable player for any team, and is even more valuable as a complementary piece next to Jokic.
As long as he maintains this level of intensity, Watson will have a role to play for this team, and he could carve out an even bigger one considering his age and potential. He is the one to watch for the Denver Nuggets.