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Will UCLA’s Peyton Watson steal NBA draft spotlight from peers? – Daily News



Mock drafts are almost by definition guesswork. You take what you’ve heard from scouts and observers, you watch which players have been most impressive during the runup to the draft, you match up team needs with player skills … and, often, you throw a dart at the board.

So this is our pre-NBA draft caution: If you are a fan of Johnny Juzang or Isaiah Mobley, it’s best not to look at the mock drafts at all before Thursday night’s draft. And if you’re a fan of Peyton Watson, bookmark every one you can find.

If a survey of 14 different mock drafts is any indication at all, UCLA’s Juzang and USC’s Mobley might have their names called very late at best, and possibly not at all. The Bruins’ Jules Bernard has been completely overlooked. In contrast, Watson overcame a spotty freshman season at UCLA to become the darling of the draft process.

Watson, a McDonald’s All-American at Long Beach Poly, and Arizona’s junior 7-footer Christian Koloko – from Cameroon by way of Sierra Canyon High – were included on each of those mock drafts, which included all 58 selections over two rounds (with Miami and Milwaukee having forfeited their picks). Another player with local roots who drew notice was Jabari Walker (Campbell Hall/University of Colorado), son of former Laker Samaki Walker, listed as a late second-round selection on seven of the 14 lists.

The projections – from Yahoo Sports’ Krysten Peek, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone, Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, USA Today’s Brian Kalbrosky, NetScouts’ Carl Berman, the Sporting News’ Kyle Irving,  The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, Sportsnaut’s Vincent Frank and the staffs of Basketball News, NBA Draft Room, NBAdraft.net, and Tankathon – were not kind to Juzang (mentioned on two of 14 lists) and Mobley (mentioned once), the stars of their respective college teams.

Watson, a 6-8 wing, might be the biggest surprise of the draft process considering he entered the draft after a statistically underwhelming season at UCLA: 3.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 32.2% from the field in 12.7 minutes per game, though with 19 blocked shots and 19 steals. He was an All-Pac-12 Freshman Team honorable mention selection, yet there was a lot that went untapped, maybe because he had guys like Juzang and Jaime Jaquez playing in front of him.

But in the run-up to the draft, Watson displayed length – a 70½-inch wingspan, as measured at the NBA draft combine – and superior defensive skills. His offensive game can probably be developed. And it didn’t hurt that when he decided to go pro, Bruins coach Mick Cronin lauded his attitude and work ethic in a public statement, and likely has told NBA people more of the same.

“I feel like I can come in and contribute immediately and help the energy of a team,” Watson said in an interview at the draft combine. More likely, he’ll be offered a two-way contract, and getting minutes and experience in the G-League will be critical to his growth. If he lands with an organization that shows patience, he could flourish.

Juzang, meanwhile, seems to have become the forgotten man. He went through the draft workout process a year ago before coming back to school, but now the best he can hope for would seem to be a late second-round pick. CBS Sports’ Boone had him going to Memphis at No. 47, and Sportsnaut’s Frank had him going to Golden State at No. 55.

A collection of scouts’ impressions compiled by Seth Davis for The Athletic included some particularly withering criticism of Juzang: “I see him as an overseas player. … He’s never gotten to be a great shooter. He doesn’t move well laterally and doesn’t stay connected through screens. He just has a ceiling. I don’t think he’s the toughest kid in the world. Sometimes you run out of talent. … He doesn’t compete hard enough for me. He doesn’t make anybody else better.”

Similarly, those scouts didn’t have much good to say about USC’s Mobley, whom only Sam Vecenie of The Athletic had going to Golden State at No. 51.

His 7-foot brother Evan was the No. 3 pick last year by Cleveland and had a monster season (15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 50% shooting from the field), but 6-foot-10 Isaiah drew these impressions: “He can really pass, got a great feel, but he lacks athleticism. He’s soft and kind of chubby. I don’t know defensively where you play him. He’s a smart player and does a lot of things well, but doesn’t do anything great.”

And what they said about Watson?

“I don’t know much about him because he hardly played this season, and he didn’t play (scrimmage) at the combine. I know he’s long, athletic, can run, jump and rebound. … UCLA was a tough situation for him because they returned five players that went to the Final Four. Not a great 3-point shooter but gets to his midrange stuff really well. Defensively, I think he competes.”

The positive for those who don’t get drafted: They have a choice of where they can go. The negative: This isn’t the NFL, where undrafted free agents can make an impact. Rosters are smaller and the road is harder, the destination usually either the G-League or overseas.

Juzang talked of the pre-draft journey after working out earlier this month for the Lakers (who as of Wednesday afternoon didn’t have a pick), but he could just as easily have been talking about the pro game and wherever it might lead.

“You know, you’re traveling around and just playing basketball, just hoopin’, going out to compete, showcasing what you can do,” he said. “The travel is what it is but you get to see some new places, it’s a great experience. You get feedback, you feel what you need to get better at and whatnot, but at the end, you’re going out and competing.

“So I don’t think it gets more fun than this.”

In other words, they’ll be getting paid and they’ll still be playing. As long as that’s the case, there’s always a chance.

jalexander@scng.com



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