The Toronto Raptors don’t have a ton of 100% known quantities on this young roster at the moment, meaning that the preseason could be a perfect opportunity for some younger players or those without a ton of NBA experience to make their mark. Yuta Watanabe took full advantage on Monday Night.
Not only was Watanabe one of the best performers in Monday’s preseason debut against the Philadelphia 76ers, but he continued to make plays on both ends of the floor. The energy and the fight that fans saw last year translated over to 2021.
Watanabe is one of six players on non-guaranteed deals fighting for one of three potential roster spots, though Yuta has experience with this team and the most money coming his way if he makes the team. Comments from head coach Nick Nurse make it sound like one of the three spots has already been filled by No. 18.
After an impressive performance from Toronto’s Japanese standout, Nurse claiming that Watanabe is “certainly in the rotation” may be a sign that despite the fact he has plenty of roster hopefuls nipping at his heels, Yuta may have already secured one of the final spots on the roster.
Will Yuta Watanabe make the Toronto Raptors?
After bouncing between the NBA and G League with the Grizzlies, Watanabe was given his first extended action last year with Toronto. While 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game doesn’t sound like amazing production, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as his defensive intensity stood out.
He recorded 10 points and seven rebounds in just 17 minutes of action against the 76ers.
That ability to use his gangly wingspan and surprising verticality to both deny Andre Drummond at the rim and pester some of Philadelphia’s young guards. That ability to line up almost anywhere in a defensive formation might be what helps him stick on this roster over some of the competition.
Watanabe made both of his 3-point attempts, all while showing that he is more willing to attack the basket this season. He could have value as just a “3-and-D” type of player, but when his skill in that area is combined with an aggressive mentality as a ball-handler and the peerless effort he shows on a nightly basis, it’s clear where he can add value.
Watanabe is the type of player who could make an impact as a rotation or depth piece, and it seems like Nurse is willing to give him some preferential treatment over the other non-guaranteed deals. It sounds like we can expect to see Yuta back in the fold this season.