After playing 56 games in the NBA G League and suiting up for the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors, Yuta Watanabe appears to have found a home with the Brooklyn Nets. The second Japanese-born player to play in an NBA game, Watanabe signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with the Nets last summer and has impressed as a key reserve in head coach Jacque Vaughn’s rotation.
Early this season, Watanabe — a 6-foot-8 small forward nicknamed “The Chosen One” in Japan — led the NBA in 3-point shooting. At the end of November, the former George Washington star was shooting a league-best 57.1% on 3s.
For the season, the 28-year-old is enjoying career highs in scoring (6.3 points per game), minutes played (18.5 per game) and 3-point shooting (47.5%). Watanabe sat down with Bally Sports to discuss adjusting to the Nets, playing with Kevin Durant, potentially participating in the 3-Point Contest and idolizing late Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
Was it a big transition from Toronto to Memphis and now Brooklyn?
It really wasn’t that hard. In Toronto, they do a lot of the (same) stuff during the game. They both play winning basketball, they have a winning culture and we have the same here too. Guys are always communicating and helping each other just like in Memphis. So meeting new teammates, new coaching, new city, it’s different, but the last four years being in the league prepared me to be here.
What is it like playing alongside KD, who commands a double team, and playing alongside a playmaker like Ben Simmons?
They are amazing passers, and every time that I’m open they always find me and I appreciate it. They trust in me, and sometimes when I don’t shoot … like, they’ll get mad and they’ll say to me, “You gotta SHOOT!” Like, that’s cool! Ben and KD telling me to shoot? … I’ve been shooting well because of them, and I appreciate their support.
You’ve shot well this season. Was there any interest in participating in the 3-Point Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend?
I mean, I’ve been saying that it would be an honor to be there, but, to be honest with you, I still don’t trust myself as a great shooter yet, you know? I’m just shooting well this season, and when you look at those great shooters like Joe (Harris), Royce (O’Neale) … they’ve been doing that for years and years. So I’m still improving, and like I said, it would be an honor to be there. But if I don’t get invited, then that’s totally understandable. And I’d have no complaints. I’m going to keep working on it, and hopefully I can make it next year.
Who was your favorite NBA player growing up?
Kobe Bryant. I was a big fan of his. I started dreaming of the NBA because of him. I would watch his games on TV. I loved his game and how he competed, how he made shots and everything. Definitely a big fan of Kobe Bryant.
Do any of Kobe’s games stand out to you?
I mean … a lot of stuff comes to mind. But the last game (in which Bryant scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz in 2016) … just how he ended his career and that showed just how much work he put into the game. So yeah, the last game he played against Utah. I was almost crying watching that game.
Do you connect well with the Brooklyn fan base?
Oh yeah. I feel like they have embraced me. We’ve got great fans, and every time we play in Brooklyn, we have great crowds. So I definitely appreciate their support, and I just wanna say thank you and keep showing up and supporting us.