Yuta Watanabe, the new Phoenix Suns small forward, drove hard to the basket and pushed a floating shot in to tie the Oct. 24 Warriors vs. Suns’ opening night game in the fourth quarter. Watanabe’s bucket ignited the Suns in the final stanza, where they held off the Warriors 108-104 at Chase Center in San Francisco.
“They’ve been helping me a lot. I feel like they have trust in me and … giving me the ball down the stretch…(is) really helping me get some confidence,” Watanabe, who scored eight points, snagged four rebounds and blocked one shot, said postgame of his new teammates.
The team’s “chemistry is getting a lot better … everyday. It’s going to continue to get better,” Watanabe said in an Oct. 15 press conference via BurnCitySports.com
Watanabe, 29, who went undrafted in 2018, has played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets and now for the Suns.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, Watanabe showcased his improved off-the-dribble skills and defense this past summer in the FIBA Basketball
World Cup for Japan. He averaged 14.8 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per contest, the FIBA basketball Website states.
He was the only NBA player to participate in the FIBA tournament for Japan, as Rui Hachimura of the Los Angeles Lakers declined to play.
In nearly every season, Watanabe has improved, with his best coming last year as a Net, averaging 5.6 points per game on 49.1 percent from the field, including 44.4 percent from beyond the arc in 16 minutes per game, according to the Basketball Reference Website.
Watanabe has also improved this season, averaging 6.1 points per game, on 40 percent shooting, including about 33.3 percent from three-point territory, in 20.1 minutes per game.
Watanabe displayed his enhanced skill set in the Suns’ Oct. 28 126-104 win against the Utah Jazz when he stole a pass, dribbled behind his back to evade a defender and converted a crafty left handed layup in transition. He finished the game with seven points, four rebounds, two steals and one block in 21 minutes.
In addition to Watanabe’s ability to space the floor with his three-point shot, he plays with energy and makes smart decisions, according to superstar teammate, Kevin Durant.
“(Watanabe is) such a bright basketball player. (I) feel like he’s always in the right spot. He plays extremely hard on the defensive side of the ball as well and then on top of that, his jump shot is getting better and better each year,” Durant, who also played with Watanabe for the Nets, told The Sporting News.
Suns Head Coach Frank Vogel echoed Durant’s sentiments about Watanabe on the defensive end, telling The Sporting News, “…he’s a thinner guy, so he’s not going to be an elite defender on-ball, but he competes and he executes the system and the scheme as well as anybody on our team.”
Watanabe is 6-foot-9 and weighs 215 pounds.
With the Suns employing a plethora of stars, including Durant and guards Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, Watanabe will be critical for a team with championship aspirations.
“To win the championship, we need to do what we’ve been doing at a higher level,” Watanabe said in a Kyodo News article.
Nichi Bei News staff writer Derek Tahara is a Yonsei or fourth-generation Japanese American born and raised in Sunnyvale, Calif. He earned his B.S. in Journalism at the University of Oregon. He is a lifelong fan of the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants.