Raptors Without Borders

Yuta Watanabe is making a name for himself with the Raptors, and he’s bringing Japan with him.

The Toronto Raptors are Canada’s team. Something which made particularly clear when they launched their “We The North” campaign – launching them into relevancy – back in 2011.

But ever since they signed Japanese forward Yuta Watanabe, it’s starting to look like the Raptors are a two nation team.

Does that sound dramatic?

Probably, but it has been fun seeing a brand new fanbase for the Raptors emerge as Japan cheers for one of the two Japanese players currently active in the NBA.

I didn’t realize the two names sounded similar until I found out, according to their pamphlet, the entire country of Japan thinks we’ve been calling Norman Powell “Gnome” instead of “Norm” these last six years.

While I can’t speak for Powell, or anyone I guess, I’d like to think we’ll give them a pass on that one considering the slight language barrier.

I, for one, am happy to share the Raptors with Japan, and am especially happy to have Watanabe become a role player for Toronto.

He’s making an impact.

Over the last four games, the six-foot-eight forward has logged double digit minutes in each of them, with a season high 24 in last nights 126-124 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Even when he doesn’t play a lot, Yuta Watanabe is a joy to watch simply because he leaves every ounce of energy on the court.

Although his numbers won’t pop out at you, Watanabe makes a noticeable impact through his hard work and plain ol’ hustle.

And it’s not only me who has noticed.

Kyle Lowry dedicated a whole eight minutes and 47 seconds to Yuta in a post game press conference on January 14th.

In the interview posted by Yahoo! Sports, Lowry brought us in on the realization that the third-year forward has an uncanny resemblance to the teams GM, Bobby Webster. He also commented on his play, noting that Yuta gives you “maximum energy every time he comes on the floor” and plays with “an extreme hardness.”

Although the latter could have been worded a little differently, sure, Watanabe must be pretty excited to hear his team’s leader, Kyle Lowry, pump his tires a little bit.

The front office has a decision to make.

Yuta is only signed to a two-way contract. That means he is only eligible for 50 games with the NBA team before having to play with their G-League affiliate (42 in a regular, non-pandemic season). Toronto does have the roster space to upgrade his two-way to a one-way, it’s only a matter of if they want to.

It doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility, especially after his stellar play last night. To go along with the aforementioned 24 minutes, Yuta dropped a career high 12 points shooting four-for-five from the field.

If they can get more of that from the guy, I see no reason for him to ever go back to the G-League.

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