Who is Yuta Watanabe? Evaluating his career trajectory so far in the NBA

Yuta Watanabe during the Brooklyn Nets
Yuta Watanabe during the Brooklyn Nets' Media Day. [photo:]

The Brooklyn Nets bolstered their roster with the addition of Japanese star Yuta Watanabe this offseason. After having significant problems against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown last season, Brooklyn moved to address some of those issues by acquiring a long and versatile defender with potential.

In his interview with Japanese media during Media Day, Yuta Watanabe said, "I received similar offers from other teams, but Brooklyn was the one where I felt most needed, so I decided."

Watanabe has been in the NBA for the past four years, largely as a bench player. He was undrafted in 2018 but earned a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. The small forward spent most of his time shuttling back-and-forth between the Grizzlies and their G-League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle.

Yuta Watanabe hardly saw action for the struggling Memphis during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He played a total of 33 games before moving to the East and signing with the Toronto Raptors.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has an affinity for long and rangy wing players in the mold of Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard. Despite his raw offensive game, Watanabe earned his minutes thanks to his defense and he was often given the unenviable task of guarding the other team’s best wing players.

A true #Raptors folk hero. Yuta Watanabe bids farewell to Toronto:

Yuta Watanabe played in 88 games for the Toronto Raptors, averaging 4.3 points on 42.5% shooting. Rather surprisingly, he developed a reliable 3-point shot during his time with Toronto. From hitting just 20.8% of his long-range attempts initially, he improved to 37.3%.

After two seasons up north, Watanabe was signed by the Brooklyn Nets, who made it a point to boost their wing defense. After losing Bruce Brown and Jevon Carter, two of Brooklyn’s best perimeter defenders, the team added Royce O’Neale and Watanabe to fill the void.

Yuta Watanabe could find it hard to get minutes with the Brooklyn Nets

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets went from a team that lacked wing defenders to a team with a solid rotation of wing stoppers. Besides the aforementioned O’Neale, they now have Ben Simmons, a perennial All-NBA Defense team member.

Before he sat out last season, the Australian was one of the favorites to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Although Simmons’ shooting is erratic, he more than makes up for it with his playmaking and vision, something which Yuta Watanabe has lacked.

The Brooklyn Nets would likely put only one of Simmons, O’Neale and Watanabe in the lineup. O’Neale is a proven player who’s more than decent from long range, hitting 38.1% of his shots.

Watanabe, meanwhile, had a solid pre-season game against the Philadelphia 76ers, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds. However, he will have to play well every time he gets an opportunity if he is to break into the lineup. A single pre-season game will likely not give him the edge over Royce O'Neale.

Yuta Watanabe tells Japanese media he hopes to fit into a 3-and-D role in Brooklyn - Nets Daily…

Watanabe’s best chance of earning more minutes will likely come when Ben Simmons or Kevin Durant take some time off.

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Edited by Michael Macasero
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