The Toronto Raptors are welcoming in plenty of new faces this season, but one returning fan favorite that will be back in the fold is Yuta Watanabe, who ended up going from a two-way player with some potential into a high-energy wing that made an impact on games with his defense.
Watanabe, who was discarded by the Memphis Grizzlies, didn’t have the most productive offensive game at times, but he fit in with what Toronto wanted to do in terms of roster building, as the 6-9 guard/wing hybrid could defend multiple positions with aplomb.
With an NBA contract set to be guaranteed by opening night and fresh off a promising stint with the Japanese national team in the Olympics, Watanabe still isn’t going to waltz right into an expanded role in 2021. In fact, if there is one role that Toronto tried to fill more aggressively than any other, some might argue it was that defensive-minded wing player on the bench.
The selection of Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, adding Dalano Banton in the second round, and getting back two bench pieces in Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa in the process of signing and trading Kyle Lowry all contributed to logjams that could leave Watanabe with fewer minutes.
Yuta Watanabe might struggle to see time for the Toronto Raptors.
Watanabe saw times as an oversize shooting guard, traditional small forward, and small ball power forward last year. With Goran Dragic still on the roster as a veteran backup guard, Barnes likely to see time all over the floor, and Chris Boucher still around to do his thing, where does Watanabe fit in?
After the 6-9 Banton impressed in Summer League with his defense, don’t be surprised if Watanabe, unfortunately through no fault of his own, ends up sliding down the depth chart. Given the fact that he averaged just 4.4 points per game last year and was a liability on offense before a late-season surge, he has some questions to answer.
Could Yuta Watanabe impress the Toronto Raptors?
Luckily, Watanabe is coming off of a very successful stretch with Team Japan in the Olympics in which he took on a featured scoring role. The level of competition isn’t the same as the NBA, but showing more of a willingness to let it fly on offense could be what gets him playing time.
You can never have too much depth in the NBA, and the Japanese sensation will make it hard for Toronto to drop him from the rotation.
Some tough decisions have to be made this season, and while Watanabe was able to provide a spark when he came on the floor last year, the selections of Barnes and Banton prove that the Raptors are eyeing players with a bit of a higher offensive ceiling to eat up rotation time.
Watanabe should still have a role in the rotation this year, as eschewing him would be another miscalculation, but he might need to fight for more minutes this year as compared to 2020-21.