Yuta Watanabe, 26, has made history as the first Japanese-born player to ever be signed by the Toronto Raptors.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 21, 2020
Making history: The Japanese forward, who became the second Japanese to play in NBA history following Phoenix Suns’ Yuta Tabuse (2004), made his debut in 2018 with the Memphis Grizzlies. Rui Hachimura, who joined the NBA in 2019, has since become the third.
- Last year, Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe became the first Japanese NBA players to play against each other in a historic game, NextShark previously reported.
- Raptors head coach Nick Nurse and the coaching staff were reportedly impressed by Watanabe’s performance during the team’s training camp, according to HypeBeast.
- In their first preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, Watanabe played for the first few minutes.
- “A pleasant surprise and knows how to play basketball,” Nurse was quoted as saying after the game. “He can handle, he can pass, a great cutter, does everything we ask him to do with the defensive end.”
- “He shoots the ball really well, better than I think his stats maybe show,” noted assistant coach Jama Mahlalela. “But most importantly, he plays the game the right way. He plays defense the way we want him to play. He does all the little things. And he’s a great teammate. Guys love him.”
- Watanabe averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds over the three preseason games.
— NBA Japan (@NBAJPN) December 19, 2020
Player status: Watanabe will not be a part of the regular rotation as he will be filling the two-way slot vacated by Paul Watson Jr. who was converted to a main roster player after the Raptors made their training camp cuts to trim the roster down to 15 main players and a pair of two-way players, reports BarDown.
The greatest intro in sports 😂 pic.twitter.com/RI0xFac7uf
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 24, 2020
- Watanabe, who joined the Raptors for the 2020-2021 NBA season, has yet to see action in the team’s first two games.
- The Raptors lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 99-113 in their season debut and against the San Antonio Spurs 114-119 in the second.