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Yuta Watanabe steps up when given the opportunity, but how much will he play this season?

Photo Credit: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Yuta Watanabe quickly became a Japanese sensation last year for the Raptors last season, bringing new fans to the Toronto fan base all the way from across the world in Japan. During his first season with the Raptors, Watanabe worked his way into a regular part of the Raptors’ rotation showing he belongs in the NBA.

Sharp shooting stretch four

At 6-foot-9 inches tall, Watanabe has a unique and versatile skillset, especially on the offensive end. His shooting touch at his height allows him to play the stretch four position for Nick Nurse when it’s needed. In his limited time last year of roughly 15 minutes per game, Watanabe shot 40 per cent from three and 82.8 per cent from the free-throw line.

Watanabe had the best game of his young career last year season in a win over the Orlando Magic, with several key Raptor players sitting out due to injuries. The 26 year-old put up a career high 21 points on very efficient shooting; 7-11 from the field including, 2-4 from the three-point line.

Offseason development

Much like his career-high performance against the Orlando Magic, Watanabe was once again able to show his abilities when given more opportunity with the Japan National Team during the Olympics this past summer.

Watanabe averaged 17.7 points per game, and proved himself as a co-star next to another Japanese sensation, Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards.

Both players have become ambassadors for the game of basketball in Japan and Watanabe even had the highest-selling jersey in his home country last season.

Tighter rotation

The biggest question for Watanabe this season will be how much opportunity he will get. The Raptors have made several new additions to their roster, including the number four overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Scottie Barnes, and Precious Achiuwa, a big man who was acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat.

Both players are expected to be featured in the Raptors rotation this year and Watanabe will once again have to work his way back in the rotation and earn more minutes in order to be a prominent part of the team this season.

Raptors Insider Stats Prediction

PTSREBASTSTLBLKFG%3PT%
5.04.01.00.50.540.540.0

Watanabe should have a lot more confidence coming into the season after a succesful first year with the Raptors and a transformative off-season with the Japan National Team in the Olympics. That being said, Watanabe will have to be efficient in his limited minutes this season, and thus his stats may be very similar with maybe a slight boost across the board.

Areas to improve

Strength and Defence

If Watanabe is going to take another step in his development, he needs to get stronger so he can compete more on the defensive end and on the boards. At times, Watanabe wasn’t prepared for the strength and athleticism of the NBA game last season and it showed.

Watanabe should be in for another grind out year trying to create a spot for himself in the Raptors rotation once again. The bright side is that Watanabe should be as confident as ever and he will be able to play in front of the true home fans of Toronto where he has already become a fan favourite.

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