The Toronto Raptors have yet to play a game with all of their key rotation pieces healthy, as Yuta Watanabe missed the first 18 games of the season due to a calf injury. The Japanese forward was finally healthy enough to make his season debut against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.
While Raptors fans know Yuta as a versatile forward that never takes a single play off on the defensive end, plenty of casual NBA fans that don’t watch Toronto games know him as a pommel horse for Anthony Edwards. Even if you’re a Raptors fan, you have to admit his dunk over Watanabe last year may have been the best in-game slam of the year.
Rather than get psyched out after such a ferocious slam, Watanabe is continuing to challenge shots at the rim. In what turned out to be a sensational fourth quarter during Toronto’s 126-113 victory, Watanabe rejected Dillon Brooks at the win and keyed a Raptors run that put the game away for good.
Watanabe doesn’t seem to be scared of getting posterized again. In fact, Watanabe told reporters that if he was allowed to block the shot 100 times, he’s jumping and making an effort all 100 times. That sort of tenacity is what makes Watanabe such a lethal defensive weapon.
The Toronto Raptors need energy from Yuta Watanabe.
The stat line from last night is a bit deceiving. Watanabe may have gone 0-3 from the field and scored three points in 14 minutes, but he recorded two steals and two blocks. Despite spending most of the game on the bench, Yuta was able to lock in on the defensive side of the floor.
Fred VanVleet said that Watanabe was “great” in his first action since the preseason, adding that he was impressed with how hard he was playing. While VanVleet did acknowledge that he “cussed him out a couple times” after he missed some layups, he said that the two have a great relationship and that he loves playing with him.
Watanabe has yet to play a home game in Toronto, as his breakout came during the team’s forced Tampa sabbatical. When the Raptors take on the Celtics in the next few days, fans in Canada will finally get to see Watanabe’s special mixture of energy and athleticism.
If Watanabe continues to make improvements as a shooter, not only will be able to take a step forward after last year, but he could give some life to a Toronto bench that hasn’t been setting the world on fire.