Three Fresno State alumni are competing in the 2020 NBA Playoffs
Three Fresno State alumni punched their ticket to the Orlando Bubble but none of them are just along for the ride.
Paul George (2008-10) – Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the no. 2 seed in the West and are taking on the No. 7 seed Dallas Mavericks for the playoffs first round.
The six-time NBA All-Star played for the Bulldogs when the school was still in the Western Athletic Conference. In 63 games as a Bulldog George averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. The school retired his No. 24 college jersey in October 2019.
Fresno State had losing records during both seasons George was there, but even without a winning season for the Bulldogs he was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers and stayed there until 2017. He then went to the Oklahoma City Thunder for two years.
This is his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
George is the one half of the Clippers power duo. He was second in scoring for the Clippers, only behind Kawhi Leonard who interestingly enough is also a MW alumni as he played for San Diego State.
George averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists during the regular season. He scored 27 points in the first playoff game and talked about his relationship with Kawhi during the postgame press conference.
Both players knew chemistry between them would be important, so they met with each other a few times during the NBA break. That included going to the gym together but also having conversations to try to get to know each other better.
“We both pick each other up. We both help each other. Kawhi, there is a reason he’s been who he is in this league,” George said. “He is an unbelievable leader, he picked us up on multiple occasions…I don’t ever want to have him believe that the pressure is all on him. I want to be able to uplift him and help him and vice versa.”
Tyler Johnson (2010-14) – Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are the No. 7 seed in the East and are taking on the No. 2 Toronto Raptors for the first round.
Johnson is still new to the Nets, but he has already proven to be valuable.
He went undrafted in 2014, then joined the Miami Heat for the 2014 NBA Summer League. He made his NBA debut in January 2015 after signing a 10-day contract with the Heat.
He joined the Suns in 2019, but was waived on February 2020. The 6’4 guard signed with the Nets late June and brought along the experience he got through the 301 career games he played with the Phoenix Suns and the Miami heat combined.
Through 31 games with the Suns Johnson only averaged 5.7 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Those stats are looking better with the Nets as shown by the eight games during the regular season in which he averaged 12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
His best game so far was 21 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 9 to help his team get a 129-120 win. During the press conference, Caris Levert praised his teammate’s basketball IQ. Head coach Jacque Vaughn had good things to say about him too.
“He gives us a secondary ball-handler so it’s tough to press us at times. And then also, he has the ability to create shots…. He has a savvy and Moxie to get things done especially down stretch,” the coach said.
During his time at Fresno State, Johnson showed his ability to grow. He went from 4.4 points per game during his freshman year to 15.9 points per game his senior year.
He got an All-Mountain West Honorable Mention in 2012-13 and made the All-Mountain West Second-Team in 2013-14. He played a total of 128 games, 87 as a starter.
Fresno State saw a 21-18 overall record, 9-9 in the conference, during the 2013-14 season. Not the best, but that roster had two players who are in the playoffs this year. Johnson was a senior, and Watson was a freshman.
Paul Watson (2013-17) – Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are the No. 2 seed in the East and are taking on the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets for the first round.
Watson went from being undrafted in 2017 to now being in the playoffs with the defending NBA champions the Toronto Raptors. His future is looking good.
He played a total of 135 games as a Bulldog, 128 of those as a starter, with an average of 29.7 minutes.
He was valuable for the team right away, starting in 39 games during the 2013-14 season while averaging 10.0 points per game. Not surprisingly, he was a Kyle Macy Freshman All-American and the MW Freshman of the Year.
By his senior year he had improved to 11.4 points per game and was invited to the 2017 College Basketball Slam Dunk contest, which was live on ESPN at the Final Four in Phoenix.
Watson joined the Raptors for the 2017 Summer League and had a brief stint with a German basketball team before becoming the fifth overall pick of the 2017 NBA G League Draft by the Westchester Knicks. In 2019 he landed with the Raptors 905, Toronto’s G-League affiliate. He did well there, averaging 18.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in 13 games.
His NBA dream finally came true when the Atlanta Hawks gave him a 10-day contract early January. He was released and then signed a two-way deal with Toronto on Jan. 15.
He only made 10 appearances with the team during the regular season. His picture is not even on the team roster, but Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said he can see him as part of the Raptors’ future.
Watson took over during the season finale, scoring 22 points on the Denver Nuggets for a 117-109 victory.
“He’s pretty good, he can play,” Nurse said during the postgame press conference. “Talking about comprehending our defensive schemes, he’s done great; really good passer. We’ve worked really hard with him in Naples 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.”