Yuta Watanabe Shows Why He’ll Have a Spot in the Raptors’ Rotation – Sports Illustrated

What was Chris Boucher to do?

With Ja Morant coming downhill off a pick-and-roll like a freight train, Boucher was put in an impossible position. Backpedaling was of no use. Morant bore down on him, picked up his dribble, and erupted for a ferocious tomahawk dunk as Boucher watched on helplessly with one hand in the air.

The natural reaction was that the Toronto Raptors’ forward made a so-called business decision. Had he jumped, his face would have been plastered on bedroom walls throughout Memphis. 

But truthfully, it wasn’t a good business decision because, in the fourth quarter, Yuta Watanabe did jump. Malachi Flynn got caught with an over-aggressive closeout against Dillon Brooks who pump-faked a shot, took one dribble in, and tried to throw down a two-handed slam. Watanabe, though, wasn’t having it. He rushed over to help, met Brooks at the rim, and snuffed out the attempt.

For Watanabe, it too was a business decision.

“I told you guys, I jump any time. If I had the chance to jump 100 times I jump 100 times,” he said. “That’s what I do. … That’s something I can bring to the team, hustle, energy.”

It was just last year that Watanabe got caught on the wrong side of an Anthony Edwards slam dunk on a play that looked eerily similar to Brooks’. The Japanese forward came over to help after DeAndre’ Bembry got caught a little too over-aggressive and ended up on an Edwards poster.

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That’s what makes Watanabe so special for this team. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or anything, but he makes the hustle plays night after night. He knows that’s his job and his only way to stick around in this league.

On Wednesday, in his season debut, he came off the bench and snared a pair of offensive rebounds, two steals, and recorded two blocks, while Boucher sat stapled to the bench in the second half.

“I thought it was awesome,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Watanabe’s night. “I just think he ran down some loose balls — and we were really having some trouble doing that — he kept a few of them alive on the offensive end, got a great block. Just some really good, hard play.”

Right now, that’s the difference between Boucher and Watanabe. While the former might provide a little more offensive firepower from time to time, it’s Watanabe who makes the right play defensively almost every single time. He understands that he has to jump in those moments, he has to hustle to stick around, and that’s why he’s already carving out a nice little niche for himself in the Raptors rotation.

Further Reading

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