Yuta: Our BEST Bench DEFENDER?

It’s no secret that the raptors biggest weakness this year is the lack of bigs. Fortunately, we have seen a couple of leaders step-up to help fill that void. Chris Boucher is quickly becoming a force to reckon with. He currently averages 2.2 blocks per game which makes him 4th in the league. There is however, another player that we don’t hear as much about. That is the Japanese native – Yuta Watanabe.

For those who don’t know, here is a quick history lesson; Watanabe is a 26-year-old hailing from Yokohama Japan. He played high school basketball at Jinesei Gakuen High school, leading them to the Japan National Finals twice. This promising come-up has earned him the nickname of “The Chosen One”. He would eventually accept a division scholarship from George Washington University (GWU), becoming the fourth Japanese-born player to compete at that level.

 After four years of college, he declared himself for the 2018 NBA draft. He unfortunately went undrafted (like a few others we know). He then got an opportunity to play for the Nets during summer league, later inking a 2-way contract with the Memphis grizzlies. Watanabe however spent most of time with the G-league affiliate the Memphis Hustle. Yet fast forward to 2020, he has signed an Exbibit 10 deal with the Raptors which turned into a 2-way contract on Dec 19th.

If you have watched the past few games, the first thing you will notice about Watanabe is his lackluster offence. This is true as his stats would tell you. His season high for points is 9 points, clearly an area requiring improvement. However, his defensive skills are the exact opposite.  He is a 6’ 9" small forward weighing 205 lbs. with an 82” wingspan. He has hit his season-high for rebounds (7 REB) multiple times. He averages 3.4 RPG which is the highest off the bench. Additionally, he is averaging 0.7 BPG, which is tied for third on the roster.

His perimeter defense is something to always keep your eye on. He does not have much difficulty slowing down or even locking down opponents. His biggest issue would be consistency.  My bold take is if he became more consistent, he could easily become a better version of Robert Covington. 

Watanabe has been recently seeing an increase in the amount of minutes. I personally do not know how to feel about this. He is a player I would love to see more when the match up calls for it. He is a growing asset as proven by his stats and for those – “the eye test”. Is he the best defender coming off the bench? Currently I do not think so at least not yet. I would say he is close or even slightly behind Stanley Johnson for that title. However, with more effort and more opportunities his defense will easily improve. I could see why Masai wanted him on our team. Once he fixes his holes in defense and starts excelling at his offence like he did early on his career, he could truly become “The Chosen One”.

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