In what has been a bleak season for the Toronto Raptors, Yuta Watanabe, recently signed to an NBA deal, has been one of the lone bright spots. After playing a combined 33 games over two years for the Memphis Grizzlies, experts had low expectations for Watanabe coming into this season.
Even with the hype around Watanabe being low, he has exceeded these expectations and has become a top role player within the Raptors rotation.
Watanabe has been a consistent player for the Raptors, emerging as a driving force in energy and hustle on the court. While his numbers may not jump out at you (4.2 points & 3.1 rebounds per game) he shoots the ball with incredible efficiency (55.8 efficient field goal percentage) and makes winning plays that don’t show up on the scoreboard.
With his ability to provide a spark off the bench, the 26-year-old forward has ignited the Raptors in close games as well as provided some life when down by a large deficit. Watanabe’s endless energy and effort has given the team and fans alike hope during a season that has being showered in negativity and uncertainty.
He has created a massive boost in team popularity globally, given his impact in Japan.
Yuta Watanabe has boosted the Toronto Raptors globally.
Overall, Watanabes on-court impact has been severely overlooked this season as he only plays about 13 minutes per game. Even with limited minutes, Watanabe has shown he has tremendous upside moving into the future. With the Raptors suffering from lack of size and rebounding this season, Watanabe has been a solid player to fill this void.
Watanabe’s ability to crash the glass and provide defense within the paint, all while providing solid playmaking, outside shooting, and defense has been a huge asset for the struggling squad. Watanabe’s versatility has helped the Raptors navigate through a wave of injuries this season and make key adjustments in-game thanks to his diverse skillset.
When looking towards the future, Raptors fans should be excited for Watanabe’s potential in an increased role. Watanabe could blossom into a strong forward to come off the bench or potentially start for the club as they begin to rebuild a new era of Raptors basketball.
Watanabe’s impact on the Raptors off the court has been as important to the teams’ success as his efforts on the hardwood. With a positive mindset and upbeat personality, Watanabe has given the Raptors a boost in team morale and confidence moving into each game, something the team has desperately needed during the various rough patches of the season.
Arguably, Watanabe’s biggest impact on the team stands to be the popularity generated for the Toronto Raptors within Japan. With Watanabe’s jersey becoming the best-selling jersey in Japan, the Raptors have become a beloved team in that country.
With an increase in global popularity, this not only generates higher commercial revenue for the organization, but the Raptors, along with Watanabe, are actively growing the sport in Asia. As a direct result of Watanabe’s emergence with the Raptors and Rui Hachimura killing it with the Washington Wizards, we might see an increase in Japanese ballers in the coming years.
As the season progresses and the Raptors continue their late-season push toward the play-in tournament, Watanabe is set to be a key contributor to team success. With Watanabe’s increased role and upward trending output, not only will his popularity rise within Toronto, but it will continue to skyrocket globally as well as within the NBA fandom at large.