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NBA Draft Preview 2022: UCLA Men's Basketball G/F Peyton Watson

The first McDonald's All-American of the Mick Cronin era is leaving Westwood after one year with the Bruins.
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The 2022 NBA Draft is taking place in Brooklyn on Thursday night, and a handful of Bruins are hoping to hear their names called.

There hasn't been a UCLA men's basketball product selected in three years, with 2020 and 2021 marking the first back-to-back drafts without a Bruin since 1957 and 1958. Of course, there has only been one draft-bound player over the past two years – guard Chris Smith, who was still recovering from a torn ACL when he was passed over.

This time around, guard Johnny Juzang, guard/forward Peyton Watson and guard Jules Bernard all forgoed their remaining collegiate eligibility to pursue careers in the NBA. With three representatives in the draft pool, UCLA could produce its first draft pick since Jaylen Hands in 2019, or maybe even its first first round pick since Aaron Holiday in 2018.

All Bruins is breaking down scouting reports, stats and predictions for the biggest names coming out of Westwood this June, and Watson is first on the list.

Stats

2021-22: 32 games played, 12.7 minutes per game, 3.3 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 0.8 assists per game, 0.6 steals per game, 0.6 blocks per game, 32.2% field goal shooting, 22.6% 3-point shooting, 68.8% free throw shooting, 11.2 PER (All-Pac-12 Freshman Honorable Mention)

Measurements

Age: 19 years old

Height (w/o Shoes): 6-foot-6.75

Height (w/ Shoes): 6-foot-8

Weight: 203 pounds

Hand Length: 8.5 inches

Hand Width: 9.5 inches

Wingspan: 7-foot-0.5

Standing Reach: 8-foot-11.5

Lane Agility: 11.03 seconds

Shuttle Run: 3.24 seconds

Three Quarter Sprint: 3.28 seconds

Standing Vertical Leap: 28.0 inches

Max Vertical Leap: 33.5 inches

What The Experts Are Saying

Sam Vecenie, The Athletic: "Watson is a fascinating upside swing for a team. It’s extremely easy to see why someone should be willing to try to develop him. He has great size and length, plays with real playmaking and passing instincts, and has defensive upside that will help. I think Watson will be an NBA player in the future with his tools, but the question — as with many prospects who entered the draft as freshmen this season — is how long can a team afford to use a roster spot on Watson waiting for him to develop? He’s not all that close at 19. My bet is that he’s probably pretty good by the time he’s 25."

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Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated: "Another freshman coming off a weird season in college, Watson remains an intriguing upside play. He’s going to need a lot of minutes next season, presumably in the G League, but has a lot of ability on the defensive end and good length for his position that could make him a disruptive force. His offense remains a work in progress, and his jumper and handle need some work, but Watson shouldn’t need to be a go-to scorer to be a useful player in the long run. There’s some split opinion on him around the NBA, and not a ton of helpful college film or a useful production sample considering how small his role was at UCLA. Still, if Watson lands in a situation where he can build confidence and better establish himself, there’s upside here."

Kevin O'Connor, The Ringer: "Top high school recruit who was a late bloomer in high school and then underwhelmed in college, but he still displayed his upside as a shot creator and versatile defender."

Aran Smith, NBADraft.net: "Lack of playing time and production made his decision to announce early in the draft process that he would be staying in the draft a head scratcher … Benefit from the ability to develop in the G League and the fact that teams can draft him and look to develop him over the next few seasons … Despite leaving after just one season, drew praise from Coach Cronin for his attitude and work ethic while at UCLA … He had a loaded front court playing ahead of him with Jaime Jaquez, who elected to return … Would have been a projected first rounder with another season at UCLA, and enters the NBA projected as a second rounder at best … Could end up being a steal, especially if he lands in the right situation, as he’s a talented player, but his career could be negatively impacted by falling into a situation where his game doesn’t develop."

Rankings

The Ringer: No. 8 Forward, No. 28 overall

Sports Illustrated: No. 19 Forward, No. 37 overall

The Athletic: No. 17 Wing, No. 39 overall

NBADraft.net: No. 9 G/F, No. 45 overall

CBS Sports: No. 17 SF, No. 67 overall

Prediction

The way Watson is being spoken about, he may very well be the most divisive prospect in the entire draft pool.

Watson's handles and jump shot were beyond raw in his lone season at UCLA, but his length looked really good, and his defensive effort and IQ were better than expected from a one-and-done, five-star recruit.

Right off the bat, Watson will be a pure project. Luckily for him, he's young and has plenty of time and room to grow, but he will have to land with a patient team that has a history and pipeline of long-term player development, likely through two-way contracts and the G League.

The Indiana Pacers hosted Watson for an individual workout earlier in June, and their timeline and mindset may match Watson's perfectly.

Shooting guard Terry Taylor and point guard Duane Washington Jr. both went undrafted in 2021, only for the Pacers to scoop them up and play them in 33 and 48 games, respectively. Indiana is a young team that is far from contending for an NBA title, so they can certainly stash him in the G League with some trips up to the association towards the tail end of next year.

The Pacers hold the No. 31 and No. 58 overall picks, meaning they are currently slated to bookend both sides of the second round.

That puts Indiana in an interesting position, since taking Watson with the first pick of the second round might be perceived as a reach, but he likely won't make it to the final pick of the night. The Nuggets and Spurs are the other teams who have reportedly worked him out – with additional rumors suggesting Watson also tried out for the Bucks and Raptors – and there are other teams who could potentially snag him somewhere in the mid-second if they liked what they saw from him at his pro day or the NBA Draft Combine.

As a result, the Pacers may want to lock up Watson at the start of the second round and commit to developing him long term.

Peyton Watson: Indiana Pacers, No. 31 overall (Round 2)

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