Peyton Watson got introduced to Kevin Durant when he was a junior in high school. Durant would occasionally roll up to Watson’s Long Beach Poly high school games to catch California’s No. 1 recruit in action against the state’s top competition, and he and Watson developed a friendship. Soon, Watson and Durant were texting on the regular.
The 15-year pro took the Nuggets rookie under his wing. Watson worked out with Durant last offseason and has been playing against him in summer open gyms for the last couple of years. The two have maintained a relationship throughout Watson’s season in Denver and Durant passes down NBA wisdom to Watson whenever he gets the chance. Controlling what he can control, not focusing on the variables outside the lines that can be distracting, and dedicating everything he has to becoming the best basketball player he can, are examples of advice Durant has imparted on the Nuggets’ 20-year-old.
Watson played his first real, meaningful, rotation minutes of the season Friday in Phoenix against the Suns.
Of course, they came against Durant.
With four starters — Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who were sidelined by injuries and didn’t even make the trip to Phoenix, the Nuggets fell to the Suns 100-93. But the Nuggets gave a great effort in this game. Denver fell behind by 27 points in the third quarter but stormed back to trim the Suns’ lead to four points with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter. In the end, the Nuggets just didn’t have enough, but it was a loss that you could feel good about.
Watson was impressive in his 27 minutes off the bench. He finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He was also the only Nuggets player to finish with a positive +/- (+5). Watson played the entire fourth quarter and was on the floor during Denver’s second-half run. It was invaluable experience and minutes for the rookie who has spent most of the season in the G League.
Here were his five best defensive plays from Friday.
Watson blocks Bismack Biyombo
Watson recorded 19 blocks last season at UCLA. It was the second-most on the entire team despite the fact that he logged only 405 total minutes. Watson has a massive 7-0.5 wingspan and at 6-foot-7 has great measurables as an NBA small forward. He can get to shots like these.
Watson stops Durant
No one in the league can guard Durant. He put a casual 30 points on 11-15 shooting on Denver despite some Nuggets players guarding him well. But Watson put up a good fight, and I think it surprised Durant a little. Watch Watson stay attached to Durant around the screen and give a good contest.
Watson blocks Biyombo again
I love how Watson sprints back in transition and recovers defensively on this possession even though he just crashed the offensive glass. He picks up TJ Warren and walls him off at the foul line, and then rotates down to send Biyombo’s shot back.
Watson gets the contested rebound
One of the upcoming offseason storylines to track with Watson will be how much muscle he’s able to put on. He still has a rookie’s body right now, got pushed around by Phoenix’s bigs a couple of times on the glass in the first half, and gave up a few offensive rebounds. But he did well here to box out Biyombo and grab the board.
Watson stops Warren
This was another good 1-on-1 defensive possession from Watson. He stops Warren in an ISO and gets him to take a tough, contested mid-range jumper.
Watson is a project, and Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth knew that when he selected him 30th overall in the draft last summer. But maybe as soon as next season, Watson can join the Nuggets’ rotation and be counted on for minutes. Perhaps he can be Denver’s Jaden McDaniels, a perfect defensive-first weapon to complement the Nuggets’ offensive firepower.
Nights like this get you excited about the player Watson can become and how he can help in the future.