Yuta Watanabe, a 26-year old small forward and one of the few Japanese-born players currently playing in the NBA hasn’t been able to find a defined role with a team since going undrafted in 2018 until now.
First, signing a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies and only playing 278 minutes in two years. It seemed as though the only chance Watanabe got was in the G-league. Even then he flashed his talent once scoring a team-high 28 points 12-19 FG 2-4 3pt along with seven rebounds, four blocks, and two steals in a Memphis hustle game versus the Iowa wolves. Yuta has proven he is a skilled player, referred to back in Japan as ‘The Chosen One’ but has lacked the opportunity to prove it in the NBA.
Now after signing an exhibit 10 deal with the Toronto Raptors who have been dealing with injuries to two of their key rotation forwards Norman Powell and O.G Anunoby for the past week. It has opened up the chance for Yuta to flash his talent and potential and he has seized every last minute of that opportunity and made a positive impact on the team and his teammates.
Yuta Watanabe Seizing his opportunity
Yuta has already logged 178 minutes throughout this season and over the past games has averaged 18.8 minutes per game to go along with 8 ppg, 5rpg, one steal, and block while shooting 50% from deep for 1.6 made threes on 3.2 attempts per game. Watanabe has proven to become an integral and exciting part of an otherwise lackluster Toronto Raptors team.
His tenacity and hustle are very noticeable on the court especially on the defensive end already starting to create a highlight reel for himself.
Yuta recognizes that he is finally making a name for himself in the NBA and what that truly means being quoted as saying:
“I know my friends and family are really happy. I feel like a lot of people in Japan are happy too.”Yuta Watanabe
The Raptors Strike Gold in a G-league prospect again
Along with becoming a fan favorite, he has gained praise from Toronto players also most notably in a Kyle Lowry eight-minute interview from the longest-tenured player on the roster who has nothing but praise for the young swingman.
Kyle begins by revealing Watanabe has been given the nickname ‘Bobby Webster’ by his teammates because of his uncanny resemblance to Toronto raptors GM Bobby Webster. Then Kyle goes on to say ” he’s a guy that gives you maximum energy every time he’s on the floor and give you everything he’s got”.
Even with the imminent return of Norman Powell and O.G. Anunoby, it seems as though Yuta will remain a part of the rotation and he has finally found his home like many G-league products before him with the Toronto Raptors organization.