Brooklyn Nets small forward Yuta Watanabe has earned the admiration of fans and teammates for elevating his 3-point shooting this season to an NBA-best 57.1 percent.
In the 14 games he’s played this season, in which he averaged only 18.2 minutes per game, he made 24 3-point shots out of 42 attempts.
Watanabe, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury, dazzled with a career-high five 3s in a 20-point performance in the Nets’ close match against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 18.
He also displayed his hot shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies last week. The Japanese-born star electrified the home crowd with a 6-of-9 shooting (66.7%) average from the field, including four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
After helping the Nets defeat the Grizzlies 127-115, Watanabe received cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
During a post-game interview with ESPN last week, Watanabe attributed his recent output to teamwork.
“I mean, you guys can tell how much my teammates trust me by how they pass the ball,” he told ESPN. “They just gave me great passes and I just made open shots, so, that was a team effort.”
Watanabe’s accuracy beyond the arc has significantly improved since his first year in the league, in which he shot 12.5 percent while playing with the Grizzlies in the 2018-2019 NBA season.
The Nets’ Kevin Durant sang praises for his teammate after a journalist asked who he would choose between his former Golden State Warriors teammate Stephen Curry or Watanabe in a 3-point contest.
“Steph’s a god, but Yuta is definitely knocking ’em down right now,” Durant said. “He’s playing great. We love his energy. He’s hitting big shots for us, so you always get excited for your teammates, especially guys who come in and don’t necessarily have a guaranteed spot on the team but work their way into the rotation and put their imprint on the game from day one.”
The Japanese sharpshooter, who signed a one-year, non-guaranteed $1.8 million minimum contract with the Nets on Aug. 28., is expected to have his deal fully guaranteed on Jan. 10, 2023.
“You know, stats prove that he’s the best shooter in the best league in the world right now,” Irving said. “We just want him to remain confident and shoot the opportunities that he gets out there. He makes the game a lot easier for us and when you have guys that are willing to sacrifice their body night to night, you want to reward them. Especially when they’re shooting the ball well.”
Watanabe has missed the last four games due to his right hamstring strain but is expected to return to play later this week, according to Nets coach Jacque Vaughn.