Poor Cat Barber.
Paul Watson Jr. put him on the wrong end of ESPN’s SportsCenter top play March 10 with a monster dunk in his face followed by a staredown while playing for Toronto’s G League team, Raptors 905.
“He’s one of my good friends and after the play, he came up to me and he was like, ‘You didn’t have to look at me like,’” Watson said, laughing. “That was my bad, but he shouldn’t have been under the basket.”
Watson faced Barber and the College Park Skyhawks the next night in the second of a back-to-back against Atlanta’s G League team in Mississauga, Ontario. After the game, Watson and everyone else learned the 2019-20 season was being put on hold as Utah Jazz all-star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
“Like literally as we were walking off the floor, (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver had made the statement that they were going to postpone the league,” Watson said. “As soon as we got in the locker room, everybody was kind of looking at their phones. Nobody really believed it.”
Watson is back in his hometown of Phoenix working out and staying in shape with the hope the NBA returns to action as he was just getting his feet wet in the league.
“Man, once you get a taste of the league, honestly, I don’t think there’s a better feeling being out on that floor and under those lights,” Watson said.
If the NBA resumes its 2019-20 season, Watson could greatly benefit from being with the Raptors, who have already clinched a playoff spot. Watson can’t be on their playoff roster as a two-way player, but he could travel and practice with the team.
The NBA is reportedly looking to decide on whether to resume the season in the next two to four weeks.
“I hope the league will find a way or some location we can try to finish out the season as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” Watson said.
At the same time, Watson is mindful of the health and safety of everyone during this coronavirus pandemic.
“This thing is affecting all of us,” Watson said. “I feel like the best way we can go about the situation is listen to people working in the health field, trust what they’re doing is only going to benefit us in the long run and try to get this thing back to regular life as quickly as possible. Being able to follow direction and stay as safe as possible and do the right things.”
Toronto signed Watson to a two-way contract Jan. 15, nine days after he signed a 10-day deal with Atlanta on Jan. 6. The Raptors waived point guard Shamorie Ponds and signed Watson on the final day NBA teams can add players on two-way deals.
“It’s really a blessing to be in the position that I’m in now,” said Watson, who led Paradise Valley High School to a state title his senior year in 2013. “It’s nice to see all that work that I’ve put in and all those hours, those summers kind of paying off now. When all those things were happening to me, it was kind of a whirlwind. It all hit me really fast. Life really changed for me pretty quickly.”
Watson took a moment to reflect when his life slowed down for just a minute.
“I remember after I got back and I signed my two-way, I finished out a road trip with the 905,” Watson said. “When we got back to Toronto, I actually kind of got to sit down. I remember I got to my room and I sat down and it was kind of relief to sit there and breathe and feel everything out. Like wow, this is really happening.”
Watson played three games for the Raptors after seeing action in two with the Hawks. Watson only scored one point in those five games, but he’s talented, athletic and playing for one of the NBA’s top franchises and a head coach in Nick Nurse, who coached in the G League for several years.
“Just figuring out my niche,” Watson said. “Talking with Coach Nurse and a lot of the assistants, the guys, I feel like my role for the team will keep me in the NBA. Being a hard worker, doing what’s asked of me night in and night out.”
Watson’s role could wind up being a deadly 3-point shooter.
Watson knocked down 42.5% of his 3s in 30 games for Raptors 905 this season. That’s eight percentage points better than what he shot in 2018-19 for New York’s G League team, Westchester Knicks.
He couldn’t find the touch from deep in the NBA, though.
Watson missed all four of his NBA 3 attempts in shooting 0-of-8 from the field overall, but at 6-6, 210 pounds and equipped with freakish athleticism, he can bring more than just shooting to the table.
“Playing defense, rebounding and being an all-around good guy,” Watson said. “Those are needed around the locker room. Just continuing to do whatever is asked of me night in and night out and do it a high level, I feel I’ll be perfectly fine and I’ll figure out a way to stick (in the NBA).”
Watson spent two seasons in the G League playing for Westchester after finishing his college career at Fresno State, before making his NBA debut Jan. 8 for the Hawks.
There he found himself having to guard the unstoppable James Harden.
Tough way to make an NBA debut, but Watson has seen Harden up close and personal before.
“I train in Los Angeles in the summer time with Rico Hines,” said Watson about the famous player development coach who works for the Sacramento Kings.
“A lot of those guys, they come though all the time. James Harden, Russell Westbrook. Guys like that. So, I’ve been on the floor with James. I’ve had to guard James plenty of times in the summer.”
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