New Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe, who signed a two-way contract with the team on Sunday, has said he didn’t go out of his way to try and impress the Eastern Conference club before the season, and that just playing his own game is what paid off for him.
“I tried to stick to playing my own style of basketball during training camp,” Watanabe said in an online interview with Japanese reporters on Monday. “I didn’t particularly do anything I hadn’t done before to try to earn the contract. I earned it by doing what I’ve always done, so I didn’t really have to worry about that.”
The 26-year-old, who spent the last two seasons on a two-way deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, described the Raptors as a “defensive team” that plays as a unit and uses defense to set up scoring opportunities on the offensive end.
“We’ve had a good atmosphere during practice, and the veterans who contributed to the team winning its first-ever NBA championship (in the 2018-19 season), like Kyle (Lowry), have guided us with their leadership,” Watanabe said. “We’ve practiced under these circumstances and it’s made me feel like I’ve come to a really great team.”
Watanabe believes he’ll be a good fit for the Raptors’ style of play, especially on the defensive end, and feels he’s earned enough trust from the coaching staff, including head coach Nick Nurse, to remain with the NBA team.
“That’s something I think I can make an appeal for,” said Watanabe, who will play for the Raptors 905 in the G League. “But in order for me to get a legitimate contract, I’ve got to be more physical and make 3-point shots at a higher percentage.”
The 206-cm Watanabe played in three preseason games, averaging 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in fewer than 10 minutes per game.
He can be encouraged by the fact the Raptors have a history of players turning G League experience into NBA success, as has been evidenced in recent years by players such as Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Normal Powell.
“I think this team is perhaps the best in the NBA in terms of developing players,” the Kagawa Prefecture native said. “I know it’s up to me and I need to put in the effort, but this is an accomplished organization and I’m looking forward to raising my game here.”
The upcoming 2020-21 campaign will arguably be the most important season for Watanabe since it’s the last year he can play as a two-way signing.
“I’m relieved to have officially signed a contract with the Raptors,” the George Washington University alum said. “But more than that, this will be the final year for me to play on a two-way contract — so I’m vigilant and feel like I’ve got to do better so that I’ll get more chances to play. I haven’t let my guard down at all.”
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