Raptors: What will Yuta Watanabe’s role be when he returns?

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 23: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 23: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors haven’t played a single game this season with every member of the rotation fully healthy. Even as Pascal Siakam returns to the fold, Yuta Watanabe has yet to play in a game this season due to a calf injury. Considering the momentum he picked up at the end of last year, this situation is nothing short of disheartening.

After joining Toronto last year on a two-way deal following some brief cameos in Memphis, Watanabe played so well on both ends of the floor that he earned a full NBA contract in the middle of the season. Watanabe was billed as another versatile two-way player this team could lean on.

Watanabe averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last year while making 44% of his shots overall and 40% of his 3-point attempts. At 6-9, Watanabe made his biggest impact as a defender, as his combination of hustle, effort, and adaptability helped make him one of the few pleasant surprises from last year’s Tampa debacle.

Watanabe appears to be close to returning as Nick Nurse pegged him for a debut sometime around the next few days. When he returns to this roster, how will his talents best be utilized?

How will the Toronto Raptors use Yuta Watanabe?

What’s become abundantly clear over the last few weeks is that Svi Mykhailiuk can’t be taken out of the rotation. On a team that lacks elite shooting, Mykhailiuk’s ability to get hot without a high volume of shots is invaluable. Cutting the minutes of Precious Achiuwa or Chris Boucher may sting, but this may be a way to ensure both Yuta and Svi get time.

Watanabe’s improvement as a shooter contributed to his uptick in minutes last year, and he should lean on that skill to carve out a role with the 2021-22 squad. Toronto doesn’t need Watanabe to change the scope of the rotation, but a few more 3-pointers and perimeter steals could help snap this team out of whatever trance they’ve been in.

Watanabe might have more height than some of his teammates, and he could play the 4 spot in a very limited capacity should Toronto have no other choice, but his main role will be playing like a traditional wing and playing more perimeter defense than hanging around the paint.

Filling your roster with “3-And-D” players is a prudent concept, and Watanabe could be an ideal fit for this struggling team.

Watanabe by himself will not completely turn the offense around, but he will be a big help when it comes to improving what has been a suspect defense of late and providing offensive spacing due to his 3-point shot. In his limited role, that’s just about all the Raptors can ask of him.

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