Basketball

Rookie Yuta Watanabe displays potential while playing major minutes in NBA G League

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Rookie Yuta Watanabe has exhibited veteran poise throughout his first season as a pro basketball player.

With a two-way contract that splits his time between the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Hustle of the NBA G League, there’s been no shortage of opportunities for the Kagawa Prefecture native to test his skills against talented teammates and foes.

The 206-cm Watanabe is having a productive season for the Hustle, appearing in 21 of the squad’s first 32 games through Wednesday. He’s also seen limited court time in eight NBA games for the Grizzlies.

In the Hustle’s Wednesday clash with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Watanabe delivered the type of performance that the Grizzlies organization has come to expect from him in the G League: 18 points (a team-high total), 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, five rebounds, three assists and a block. The Hustle (17-15) lost 110-91, but Watanabe made a big impact.

On Jan. 25, Watanabe paced the Hustle with 23 points and added seven rebounds and two blocks in a 108-97 road defeat to the Westchester Knicks.

Watanabe is averaging 13.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 assists for the Hustle. He’s started all 21 games that he’s played in the G League, averaging 34.1 minutes per contest. His versatility at both ends of the floor, including 3-point shooting, has been solid along with his high-energy play.

In addition, the George Washington University product is attempting 11.4 shots from the field per game for the Hustle, a sign of his active involvement on offense and the team’s trust in him to make shots.

In an interview with The Washington Post last summer, Watanabe informed the world that he’s serious about his desire to become a well-regarded pro.

“I just want to keep working hard,” Watanabe was quoted as saying during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. “I just want to keep improving myself. And I just want to prove people that I can play in the real game.”

In an interview posted on the Hustle’s YouTube channel in November, Watanabe reiterated the point that working hard is his primary focus.

“If I hustle, I can get more reps,” Watanabe said.

He added: “The reps help me, like, develop my confidence and skill level and basically everything.”