Rolling the Dice: Peyton Watson
At some point in every NBA Draft, when does it become time to roll the dice?
“The dice are dancing on the table. Between now and the time they stop, that’s the greatest high in the world.”
Gambling is a rush that all of us pursue. We might struggle to admit it, but it’s something that installs a brief moment of excitement in our lives. While many might think that the idea of “gambling” automatically comes along with financial ramifications, the truth is that money isn’t the only thing we are willing to put on the line.
Risk can be a part of everyday life. We have situations that arise that have us taking a pair of dice and rolling them on a table to see if we can improve the immediate outlook on a particular moment in time. The instant that roll happens, our heart starts to beat a little faster, and seconds suddenly seem to turn into minutes. Our breathing changes as we wait for the ripple effect that leads us to either collect the rewards or buckle down for the next rollercoaster of emotions.
The NBA Draft can be a place where organizations and executives look to eliminate as much risk as possible. Front offices spend an entire year sending out scouts and various personnel to make their evaluations on a number of talented individuals with the dream of finding a player that offers both safety and upside. But those same front offices are filled with humans that have the same desire circulating through their body and mind each and every day. They have a feeling that surrounds them like clockwork, and no matter how hard they try to fight it…the itch never seems to go away.
At some point in every NBA Draft, when does it become time to roll the dice?
UCLA freshman forward Peyton Watson has become one of the most fascinating evaluations of the entire 2022 NBA Draft class. Heading into the 2021-22 NCAA season, Watson was one of the top recruits out of high school. There was plenty of hype surrounding the lengthy 6’8” forward, as many considered him a potential top-10 pick in the upcoming class. Evaluators waited anxiously to see how Watson would fit in with the veteran UCLA roster, as it looked like the addition of the five-star recruit would give the Bruins a monster of a rotation moving forward.
The problem with joining a team with a number of veteran offensive mouths to feed is that there’s simply not going to be enough food to go around. Watson has struggled throughout the year to generate consistent minutes and has “teased” evaluators with brief flashes of his unique ability.
At the beginning of the college basketball season, I took a little scouting trip to Las Vegas with fellow No Ceilings member Albert Ghim. The main attraction was getting a look at Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren, but it didn’t take long before another prospect got my curiosity. The moment I walked onto the floor, the young UCLA freshman walked right by me. I quickly thought to myself… “He’s 6’8”? He looks closer to 6’10.” I didn’t realize that after a night in which Watson showed a number of various flashes, a seed would be planted in my head moving forward.
Why won’t they play this kid more? It pissed me off and had me waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. For a player that seems to have such an intriguing set of tools to develop, I was quickly becoming fascinated by the entire situation. Not often do I find myself possessed about a prospect that is currently averaging 3.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 13.3 minutes, but I’ll always welcome a daunting challenge.
Is this a one year thing? Is it just a bad fit? Should he still declare for the Draft?
The burning questions didn’t seem to go away. In fact, the list only continued to get longer. I found myself puzzling through film and playing the limited flashes over and over again. The thing that’s so fascinating about Watson is the tools he already has in his arsenal. From my first time seeing Peyton in person, I came to a couple of conclusions. The obvious one was about the outside shot. Watson showed that he’s still a bit robotic with his shooting, and you could see in warm-ups that the confidence is still in the “loading” process. Although there are glimpses in which the 19-year-old wing shows a smooth stroke, there’s still a lack of consistency when it comes to footwork, rotation, etc.
The second was that this kid is a developmental staff’s dream. Watson is still figuring out just how dangerous he can be on a court. There was buzz building before the season about Watson’s ability as a playmaker, and yet he’s had to deal with playing off the ball the entire year due to a number of veteran offensive focal points such as Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez. But when he gets the opportunity, you can see that a beast is just waiting to be released to the wild.
After taking another trip to Las Vegas to take in the PAC12 tournament, I found myself watching USC take on UCLA. That’s when it happened. Watson checked into the game finally and went on to fly all over the court, making an impact on both sides of the floor in a variety of ways. He’d only play nine minutes in the game, but those nine minutes had me searching to pick my jaw off the ground.
This kid needs to declare. If the Shaedon Sharpe situation happened to Watson, are we still talking about him as a Lottery pick?
Watching film of Peyton Watson is like trying to find a buried treasure without a map. Due to his lack of minutes throughout the year, I had to dive as deep as possible to present a canvas to all of you before attempting to paint a picture. Although Watson is mainly playing off the ball this year, you can see that when he is given the opportunity to create, he has the upside you want. The length and fluidity of his game are going to continue to make scouts drool. Although he’s going to need time and repetition to consistently extend his outside shot, there are flashes of something special brewing in the kitchen.
When Watson has confidence, he’s an entirely different player. All it takes is one play to get himself feeling good and then he doesn’t just glide around the court, he floats. Watson’s smoothness really jumps out at you when you see him in person. There’s plenty of moments on tape in which he can be robotic and I’m still convinced that’s due to just general rawness and needing more reps. But when the 19-year-old knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball, he can have you dancing around the room like you just walked into a disco.
The combination of length, mobility, and athleticism just continue to make me believe that even after a “disappointing” year, NBA teams will still be enticed at the idea of adding a player with his best basketball miles ahead. Now let me stress that this is the holy grail of all developmental projects. This isn’t just going to be a swing for NBA organizations—this would be swinging for a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. Watson shows that he can get downhill and make some eye-opening plays in traffic at times. There’s some wiggle to his game, even with his thin and lengthy frame.
When I saw Watson in person at the beginning of the year, I was shocked at his frame. On the one hand, I thought he could have been taller than his reported 6’8” measurements. On the other hand, I found myself saying that “this kid needs a lot of time in the weight room.” With all of that in my mind, it’s still impressive with what he can show on the basketball court at such a raw developmental stage in his career. Watson can absolutely fly all over the court and makes it look effortless.
The biggest question moving forward with Peyton Watson will be his outside shot. From just watching it on film compared to seeing him in warm-ups in the beginning of the year, I’m already impressed at the progressions he’s made. It’s not by any means a finished product, but it’s promising to see that there are some flashes of development in the right direction. I love this sequence here as Watson attacks off the dribble, makes a quick read, and then relocates for an open three.
If you saw this clip alone, you might find yourself saying “wait, that shot doesn’t look so bad.” That’s exactly what you want to see with a player with a developing shot. There are times in which Watson can look smooth and confident from outside. There are also other instances in which the footwork can get inconsistent, and he can be way off. It looks as if it’s on the right path, and it will be interesting to see what he can do throughout the pre-draft process when it comes to workouts.
If you’re looking for what makes Peyton Watson such a special talent…then this is where it’s going to get REALLY fun. Watson has HORRIFYING upside as a defensive weapon. While Watson’s confidence might go back-and-forth on the offensive side of the ball, he knows he can be a lethal weapon as a defender. The mobility and fluidity pop on tape, allowing Watson to cause damage all over the floor. When Albert and I saw UCLA play in Las Vegas, this play quickly got us on the edge of our seats. Look at Watson smother the ball before flipping his head around and reaching back to knock the ball loose.
This is another play in which you can see how quickly Peyton Watson can cover ground. He gets caught up here on a screen, but Watson never gives up on this play and has the quickness and lateral movement to recover in a hurry. I love the recognition to also block this shot from that specific angle.
Just another fun demonstration that shows the combination of length and feet that Peyton Watson has to his game already as a defender. This is why I believe that the freshman forward is going to have a developmental staff foaming at the mouth. There are so many tools already in the shed for the kid, and he just needs some cleaning up with a number of fundamentals on both sides of the ball. The recognition and awareness are there, but Watson just needs time to let the game slow down. When that day comes, my goodness.
UCLA freshman Peyton Watson is going to be “The Gambling Man” of the 2022 NBA Draft class. While some out there might believe that the 19-year-old forward should return for another year, I’m not sold that will happen. For someone who in the beginning of the season was absolutely convinced that Watson would return, a second trip to Las Vegas has shifted my belief. NBA scouts and personnel have been watching the talented forward closely over the years, so there’s a chance they won’t overreact to one year of inconsistent minutes. These type of situations happen more often than expected with characterized “one-and-done” prospects.
For a player of Peyton Watsons’ upside, it’s going to be fascinating to see if he tests the waters and the feedback that comes back. It wouldn’t shock me if Watson opens some eyes in pre-draft workouts and starts to quietly buzz in draft circles again.
With a serious amount of upside that is waiting to be unlocked, Watson could become the roll of the dice that every front office is itching to make.