Yuta Watanabe plans to up his offensive output this NBA season as he seeks to nail down a regular spot on the Toronto Raptors’ bench, the Japanese forward said Friday.
The Raptors rewarded Watanabe’s solid play by upgrading him from a two-way deal to a standard NBA contract in April, but the 26-year-old said he needed to make a bigger impact as both a scorer and facilitator in his fourth NBA season.
Screenshot shows Toronto Raptors guard-forward Yuta Watanabe giving an online press conference on Oct. 1, 2021. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
“I can definitely be more aggressive this year, so I will either try to score, or draw the defense and pass,” Watanabe said during a media conference at the Raptors’ training camp in Toronto.
“I felt like last year, I stuck to my role too much. This year, when I feel like I have to go, I’m going.”
Watanabe said his experience starring for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics over the summer had helped him sharpen his game and prepare for the coming NBA season with the Raptors.
“(It) was a really busy summer but I had a lot of good experiences and it definitely makes me a better player,” said Watanabe.
“With the national team I have to be the guy who scores, rebounds, defends…it’s a different role than (on) the Raptors. So I had to work on all of that.”
After spending his first two NBA seasons on two-way contracts with the Memphis Grizzlies organization, the Kagawa Prefecture native remains motivated by the possibility that his NBA dream could quickly come to an end.
“My contract is not guaranteed yet. There’s always competition and I like it, you know. That’s what I’ve been doing for years,” said Watanabe, who averaged 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and a career-best 40 percent from the three-point line in 50 games for the Raptors last season.
With the Raptors temporarily based in Tampa, Florida, last season due to coronavirus travel restrictions, Watanabe is finally set to make his home debut in Toronto this preseason.
“That’s what I’m really excited about. I heard Toronto fans are awesome. With the Grizzlies, I came here to play against the Raptors and I thought the fans were great. I just cannot wait to play in front of them and show what I’ve got,” he said.
The Raptors are scheduled to open the 2021-2022 NBA regular season at home against Watanabe’s Japan teammate Rui Hachimura and the Washington Wizards on Oct. 20.
Hachimura has yet to join the Wizards’ training camp after being granted time away from the team for personal reasons.
Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said the team still had no timetable for Hachimura’s return.
“It’s unfortunate he’s not here, he’s not with us. But it also gives some other guys the opportunity to get on the floor and show us what they’ve got,” Unseld said.