5 things you need to know before Yuta Watanabe's first return to Scotiabank Arena as a Brooklyn Nets player
On November 23, 2022, Yuta Watanabe and the Brooklyn Nets visit the city of Toronto for the first time this season. Kevin Durant is dominant like he should be. Kyrie Irving is back from an off-court confusion. Ben Simmons is starting to be who he is supposed to be.
But part of the excitement belongs to Yuta Watanabe, the former Raptor who now is helping the Nets with his sharp shooting and hustle. And there are some things to talk about him right now.
1. Recent injury situation
Watanabe felt tightness in his right hamstrings and missed the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. As of 7:30 am on Wednesday (EST), his status for the game is not known. But it is reported that Watanabe had an MRI, which was negative. He did participate in the shooting around in Philly and put up some shots.
So, it seems like Watanabe 's condition is not too far away from being "Available" against the Raptors. But considering the tricky nature of hamstrings injury, it's still not clear and even if he has the green light, it's unknown whether he's under some kind of restrictions.
2. Just the second time around
For Watanabe, if he actually comes out available on Wednesday, it will be just the second time to play against the Raptors. He didn't play in this season's first meeting at the Barklays Center.
Last time he played against the Raptors, it was on January 19, 2019 during his rookie season at the Scotiabank Arena. He scored five points on 2/5 shooting (including 1/2 from deep) and also registered 1 rebound and 1 assist.
3. Yuta the Shoota
If Watanabe is to go, we'll see a different caliber of player than the last season. This is not a crazy hype from a biased Japanese media. We are talking about the reality: Watanabe is currently the NBA's best shooter with 57.1% 3P shooting.
He is enjoying an amazing 22.9-point jump from last season in this category. In the 14 games he played, he has already made 24 threes, which is equivalent to 90% of his makes from beyond the arc for the last season as a whole (where he played in 38 games).
All of his threes this season come from catch & shoot with most of them uncontested. It means he's taking the best shots available taking advantage of playing alongside guys like Durant, Irving and Simmons. Joe Harris is quoted as saying Watanabe "definitely got a flamethrower right now."
If he doesn't take the 3P shot, he wheels and deals through the paint and many times creates for other deadly shot makers.
4. Doing the hustle
He's running through 94 feet in every transition situation to become the frontrunner of the Nets' fastbreak. That's one of the main reasons of his 60.9% shooting from the field (which is also 20.3-point jump from 2021-22 campaign).
On the defensive end, he's an effective rim protector as he changes and blocks shots by likes of Anthony Davis and others. He frequently takes the opponent's main threat in the crunch time (like he did against Damian Lillard), which should be the sign of the team's trust in Watanabe as a defender.
5. Love for the city
Once again, he is showing enormous love for the city of Toronto. When he was asked by a Japanese media about how he was looking forward to playing in the Wednesday's showdown, he made it clear that he wanted to play.
His final game as a Raptor was the Game 6 of the playoffs series against the Sixers last May. He felt the love and energy from the fans in Toronto as the Raptors Nation chanted "Let's go Raptors" when he hit the court late in the 4th quarter. He knows there still is a lot of people there who love him.
It seems like there are reasons for Toronto's local fans to be able to enjoy the game today regardless of the outcome.
"Let's see how it feels in my hamstrings tomorrow morning." Watanabe said on Tuesday.
Text by Takeshi Shibata