The Toronto Raptors' most exciting moment in the NBA Bubble—OK, besides that fucking bananas OG Anunoby shot—may have come courtesy of Paul Watson Jr. Yes, the G-League guy on a two-way contract with the team.
Coming off the back of the bench as coach Nick Nurse opted to rest his starters in August's seeding-round finale against the Denver Nuggets, Watson was an absolute beast, dropping an efficient 22 points on 13 shots, and going 4-of-6 from three. The exclamation point was a bone-shaking alley-oop dunk off a feed from teammate Stanley Johnson (who himself was has having a standout game), which had all the Raptors vets on their feet, kirking out.
The Raptors have already begun hunting for young hopefuls they can add to their roster come November, scheduling pre-draft interviews with the likes of Canada's Karim Mané and Maryland's Jalen Smith. But their next big find might already be in their system: Watson is poised to have a breakout season in 2021.
After signing a two-way deal with the Raptors in January, the 25-year-old shooting guard began making noise in the G-League straight away. The Phoenix native was one the Raptors 905's top scoring options, averaging 19 points at a 49 per cent clip, while shooting 42.5 per cent from 3-point range, with 6.4 rebounds per game. Of course, his season with the 905 was abbreviated, but we got a good idea of what he could do: drive aggressively to the hoop, posterize opponents, hit 3s proficiently while being tightly guarded, and make sound defensive reads. Even in his garbage time minutes with the Raptors, he managed to have an impact (including a highlight-reel block against the Pacers).
Watson traveled with the Raptors to the Bubble in Orlando, where he played in five games and earned praise from Nurse.
"He’s pretty good. He can play," the reigning NBA Coach of the Year told reporters. "Talking about comprehending our defensive schemes, he’s done great; really good passer; worked on some of the mechanics of his shooting and he’s just eaten that all up and put in the extra work on that and it showed up here. He vaulted up and made shots. He’s got good size.
"He can play. He’s gonna be part of our future from what I can see so far."
Watson's already doing his part to ensure that's the case. He'll reportedly be heading to L.A. soon to work out with revered player development coach Rico Hines, who himself has described Watson as "the next steal."
For our latest episode of Northern Clutch, we caught up with Watson earlier in the season for an inside look at how he's leveling up his game. Watch it above, then read our chat with him about life as a Raptors two-way player, his sneaker obsession, and the team's biggest style flexes.
"When I was a baby, my first word was actually 'shot.'"
You currently rock the number 1 on your jersey. Any significance behind that?
Tracy McGrady was my favourite player growing up. And he played for the Raptors. Obviously, the number 5 was taken, because Stanley [Johnson] wears it. I got the text about picking my jersey, what I wanted on it, and I was talking with Dev [Devin Robinson] and I was like, "Yo, what number should I wear?" We talked about it literally for like 10 minutes. And it just came to me: T-Mac, he wore number 1 on the Raps. Childhood idol, why not?
Was basketball always the thing for you growing up?
At an early age, I pretty much knew that's what I wanted to do. I always loved the sound of the ball in the gym, watching it go through the net. It's funny; when I was a baby, my first word was actually "shot." It wasn't "mom" or "dad." I think we were at the store; they said I saw a basketball and I just said it. They both looked at me like, What? My mom was kind of hurt that it wasn't "mom," but my dad found it hilarious.
When you get called up to play for the Raptors, what's your mindset on the court? Obviously, being a two-way player, you kind of have to pick your spots.
Definitely. [With] the time that I get, I just want to go out there and play as hard as I possibly can. Make the right plays and show that I'm locked in and that I can contribute and do a lot more. When I'm up, [my role is] definitely being an energy guy, playing defense, staying locked into my match-up. And when the ball swings my way, knock down an open shot. I feel like that's what got me there: shooting the ball at a high level, knowing the game at a high level, and playing hard.
Being one of the rookies in the locker room, do the Raptors vets ever roast you guys?
I mean, I guess you could say we have our rookie duties. One of them would be, like, before the game, at halftime, and after the game, me and Oshae [Brisset] are responsible for going to get water. Depending on whether we're away or away or not, we might have to bring food to the plane. [There are] crazy things like we can't really sit down first, we have to wait for the other guys. Actually, when we're at breakfast and we're on the road, if Kyle [Lowry] and Fred [VanVleet] are eating at the table, me and Oshae are not allowed to eat there. [Laughs.] So it's crazy things like that. But it's cool, you know what I mean? You appreciate it.
"It's about going out there and proving whoever passed up on you wrong; showing them why you deserve to be in this league and that you're here for a reason."
You gotta pay your dues! Talk about playing for a championship team. What kind of tone is there in the locker room? Does it rub off on you?
Definitely. I mean, you can just tell it's a winning organization. They take it really seriously. You know, guys are doing what they're supposed to. It's more of ourselves holding each other accountable, and it's not really the coaches getting on us. If a guy is not doing what he's supposed to do, 10 times out of 10, somebody is going to say something to get him going. So you can tell they take pride in what they do.
You, like a bunch of the guys on the Raptors squad, went undrafted. Does that put an extra chip on your shoulder?
It does. Going undrafted, I mean, a lot of guys have had great NBA careers coming out of schools and not hearing their name called. Fred is one of them. And we all know he has one of the best phrases: "Bet on yourself." He took that and it shows: he's an NBA champion, and he was a big part of that. I just feel like it makes guys that much hungrier. The league now, it has a lot of undrafted guys and it just shows that you don't have to be drafted to compete. It's about going out there and proving whoever passed up on you wrong; showing them why you deserve to be in this league and that you're here for a reason.
What's something most people wouldn't know about you?
I'm definitely a really quiet guy by nature. But I love to draw. If I'm not playing a video game or in the gym, I use drawing as a way to kind of relax myself. I'll listen to some music and whatever happens, just happens; I'll just go with it. I'm more into cartoonish stuff, like anime. I'm into Dragon Ball.
"When we're at breakfast and we're on the road, if Kyle and Fred are eating at the table, me and Oshae are not allowed to eat there. [Laughs.]"
Have you copped any of the Dragon Ball sneakers?
I think I might have grabbed a couple from the Adidas collab. I'm pretty sure I've got, like, two of those. They're somewhere back home in my storage unit.
Would you say you're the biggest sneakerhead on the Raptors 905?
I would say so, just off the strength that I probably have the most sneakers. I started at such a young age. I was that kid who would camp out 10, 12 hours at a time, waiting for the new Jordans, you know what I mean? And sometimes I would wait that long, get to the front of line, and they'd be like "Oh, we're sold out." Those were always the worst days. But yeah man, I've had a love for sneakers forever.
What's your rarest pair?
Right now? I would probably say maybe my '05 Flints or my Purple Lobsters. They're going crazy on StockX right now.
How about on the Raptors—who would you say is the biggest sneakerhead?
That's tough, because I feel like everybody's coming in with something different. Like, everybody's style is so different. OG [Anunoby], his style is way out there. I mess with it. I mean, sometimes he'll come in and I'll be like, "Yo, that's really tough!" And sometimes I'll be like, "That's cool, but I wouldn't wear it." But he and Serge [Ibaka] are always going back and forth about who dresses better and stuff like that. There are so many different styles that I really couldn't tell you who's right up there.
What's your scarf collection like?
I haven't jumped into the scarf wave yet. So, I'mma talk to Serge and we're gonna work on that. I'mma get my scarf game up.