The NBA has been graced by talented international players in recent years. A few Japanese players have also left their mark on the league. Basketball is a growing sport in the country, and it won't be long before we see more players from Japan flourish in the NBA in the next few years.
Currently, Washington Wizards star Rui Hachimura and Brooklyn Nets' Yuta Watanabe are the only active players from the league who hail from Japan. As per RealGM, three other players from Japan have played in the NBA.
Let's take a look at these five players:
#1 J.R. Sakuragi
The Vancouver Grizzlies picked J.R. Sakuragi with the 57th pick in the 1998 draft. He played 30 games, averaging 3.2 points and 1.5 rebounds during the 1998-99 season.
He signed multiple training camp deals: in 1999 with the Grizzlies and in 2000 with the Sacramento Kings. However, he was cut by both franchises before the start of the season.
Sakuragi was raised in California and played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins.
Born J.R. Henderson, he changed his name to Sakuragi to become a naturalized citizen of Japan and play for their national team in 2007.
#2 Yuta Tabuse
Yuta Tabuse was among the shortest players in the NBA at 5'8". He was the first Japanese player to play a regular-season game.
The Phoenix Suns gave him his first and only run in the NBA during the 2003-04 season. The Japanese point guard played just four games, averaging 1.7 points per game.
Tabuse signed a multi-year deal with Phoenix but got cut within two months of his contract.
Before signing with the Suns, the Nuggets signed Tabuse to a training camp deal in 2003. The Clippers also availed his services for training camp in 2005. Tabuse played for the Suns during the 2004 Summer League and for the New Jersey Nets in 2008.
#3 Nick Fazekas
The Dallas Mavericks selected Nick Fazekas with the 34th pick in the 2007 NBA draft. Fazekas played only four games for the Mavericks in the NBA before being assigned to their G-League team. He was waived by the franchise midway through the 2007-08 season.
Fazekas got an opportunity with the LA Clippers. He played 22 games for the franchise. The American-born Japanese player averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds across 26 regular-season games.
His next opportunity to play in the NBA came with the Denver Nuggets, who signed him to a training camp deal. However, they waived him entering the 2008-09 season. Fazekas played in the Summer League for the Mavericks, Clippers and the Boston Celtics.
#4 Yuta Watanabe
Yuta Watanabe is one of two active Japanese players in the NBA. Watanabe entered the 2018 draft but went undrafted. The Memphis Grizzlies signed him as an undrafted rookie in the same year. He played 15 games for the franchise, averaging 2.6 points per game.
He played 18 games the following season but had an even more reduced role as he averaged just eight minutes per contest. Watanabe averaged two points per game that year.
Yuta Watanabe's best opportunity came with the Raptors when he signed with them as a free agent in 2020. He played 88 games for the team across two seasons, averaging 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is now with the Brooklyn Nets, who signed him as a free agent this summer.
#5 Rui Hachimura
Rui Hachimura is one of the most successful Japanese players in the NBA. The Washington Wizards drafted him with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Hachimura played 48 games in his first season. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest.
The following year, he played 57 games and made his playoff debut. Hachimura bagged 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest in his sophomore year.
Rui Hachimura missed the first half of the 2021-22 season, his third year in the NBA, citing personal reasons. Hachimura returned to play 42 games, starting 13 of those and averaging 11.3 points and 3.8 rebounds.