It doesn’t matter if it’s in Denver or Grand Rapids. Peyton Watson just wants to play.
Amid a rash of injury and illness, Watson, the 30th pick in the NBA draft, was recalled by the team prior to Wednesday’s game against the Knicks after an impressive stint with the team’s G League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold.
Watson made his NBA debut in the final minutes of Denver’s season-opening loss to the Jazz. He scored his first NBA points a couple of games later in Portland but was sent to the G League when regular minutes were not available ahead of the Gold’s first game on Nov. 5.
“There’s nothing like being up here with the main team, with the Nuggets, and the atmosphere and the fans, but there’s also nothing better to me than playing,” Watson told The Denver Gazette on Wednesday. “I’d much rather be playing than, you know, sitting down, just kind of letting time go by. I’d rather get in playing shape, get in condition and be ready to hoop so that way when my number is called up here, I’m ready to go.”
Playing time is at a premium for Watson, who didn’t get much of it the last two years. His final prep season at Long Beach Poly High School was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. He then joined a talented UCLA squad coming off a run to the Final Four and played just 12.7 minutes per game in his only season with the Bruins.
The 20-year-old made up for lost time with the Gold. Although Grand Rapids started 0-4, Watson left Michigan sixth in the G League with 27 points per game. He also averaged 9.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.8 steals and 2 blocks, while shooting 51.3% from the field. While he scored 21 or more points in each game and had 32 points on 18 shots in one game, Malone wants the rookie to remember why he’s in the NBA.
“I just want Peyton to continue to understand what hard work means, competing means. He was drafted with defense in mind. Does that mean he can not play offense at all? No, not at all. People take that as a slight. No, what we’re saying is that we feel he has a chance to be an above-average defender,” Malone said. “His mindset every game he goes into – whether that’s tonight or whenever it happens for him – is to go out there and compete defensively and own (his) matchup and make an impact on that end of the floor. The offense will come.”
While he won’t get the 37.6 minutes per game he was receiving in the G League, the rookie says he’s not changing his approach.
“They drafted me here, and they want me here for a reason, and that’s my ability,” Watson said. “They know that when I come in, in the G League, it’s the same as when I come in out here. They want me to come in, produce, play both sides of the ball and just make something happen (that’s) positive. Obviously, my contributions in the G League mean more, because I’m one of the marquee guys, but even up here, I hold myself to the same standard and responsibility.”
Watson believed the length of his stay in the NBA would be based on his playing time and production. He was in uniform but didn’t play Wednesday against the Knicks.
“He just needs to play game minutes,” Malone said. “Every game he plays is just a learning opportunity for him.”