Toronto Raptors: Yuta Watanabe and Japan face tough road in Olympics

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors are sending a few players to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year, and while Nick Nurse and Team Canada might have to watch the Olympics on TV like the rest of us, rising forward Yuta Watanabe will try to make his country proud when he suits up for host nation Japan.

Watanabe, who was signed to a proper NBA contract after impressing Toronto on his two-year deal, will team with Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura and Melbourne United guard Yudai Baba in order to lead his country to heights that they have yet to reach as a basketball power.

Unfortunately, and potential of the home team getting an easy road out of the group stages was swiftly negated, as Japan got stuck in what might be the deepest all-around group in the competition. It will take quite an effort for either of them to make it that far.

The last time we saw Japan on an international stage as high as this, they were winless in five tries at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Now that they have some proven NBA talent, can Watanabe help his team pull off some upsets and surprise plenty by making it to the next round?

Toronto Raptors star Yuta Watanabe has a tough task ahead with Team Japan.

Argentina, who won gold in 2004, is led by players like Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo and brand new Knick Luca Vildoza. Even 41-year-old former Raptor Luis Scola is on the squad. Given the experience that this group has, they can’t be discarded as a potential threat.

Spain will once again have their eyes on a podium finish. In addition to two sets of accomplished brothers in both the Gasols (Pau and former Raptors starter Marc) and the Hernangomez boys (Willy and Juancho), NBA veteran Ricky Rubio and projected first-round pick Usman Garuba will be on the team. That is a ton of firepower to overcome for Watanabe to overcome.

Slovenia might not have a ton of depth, but they have without question the best player in this group in Luka Doncic. His skill might carry them to some wins based purely on his ability alone, which could complicate things further for Watanabe.

The first and second-place finishers in all three groups, in addition to the two best third-place teams, will advance to the next round of the competition. While there is a very clear pathway for Japan to make it to that round, they will need Watanabe and Hachimura to play the best basketball of their life to make that dream a reality.

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