With each passing game, Yuta Watanabe continues to prove that he belongs in the Nets' rotation.
Though defense and energy have been his calling card thus far, the 28-year-old has unexpectedly emerged as Brooklyn’s best 3-point shooter. After hitting a career-high five 3s in a win last week over the Trail Blazers, Watanabe backed it up by draining four more to knock off Memphis, earning a standing ovation from the Brooklyn crowd.
How insane is that? Over his first 133 career games spanning five seasons, he not once hit more than three in any game.
After going scorched earth, Watanabe — a career 35% shooter from beyond the arc — suddenly finds himself atop the entire league.
It’s staggering that on a team with Kevin Durant, Seth Curry and Joe Harris, it would be Watanabe who stands out early. Curry and Harris rank among the top six most accurate shooters in NBA history while Durant is perhaps the most skilled scorer ever.
So how on earth is this happening? Let’s take a closer look into one of the most surprising stories so far this season.
Yuta Watanabe shooting stats
To understand how he’s doing this requires going beyond the basics.
Earlier this season, SN’s Steph Noh explained how Watanabe is statistically one of the NBA’s most unselfish players. That unselfishness is paving the way for Watanabe’s shooting.
The Nets reserve embraces his role, stays within his limitations and gladly takes what the defense gives him. Not only has Watanabe not taken a single pull-up 3 this season, he hasn’t even dribbled a single time before any of his attempts from beyond the arc. Not one dribble!
Just as he should be, Watanabe is feasting on open looks generated by his teammates. Not surprisingly, he’s made more off of passes from Durant than any other teammate and every single one of his shots has come with no defender within four feet. In fact, according to NBA.com’s player tracking, over two-thirds of his shots have been wide open — defined as no defender within six feet.
3-Point Shooting This Season
The Nets still certainly have issues. They are awaiting Kyrie Irving’s return from suspension, Ben Simmons is still finding his form, and Seth Curry is still working his way back following an injury. And even though Kevin Durant is quietly pumping in over 30 points per game, he’s still publicly unsure and unsettled when it comes to evaluating his own team.
And yet amidst all of the noise stands the consistent and reliable Watanabe, perfecting his role on both ends of the floor and offering much-needed stability off the bench.
Will he keep shooting like this? Probably not. After all, that would the single best shooting season in all of NBA history.
But if he can maintain some semblance of his early-season form, Watanabe’s emergence in Brooklyn could evolve from an early-season surprise into a critical long-term solution.