“Brooklyn, thank you for everything,” Watanabe tweeted on July 4. “I’ll always be grateful. Will miss you.”
Watanabe, 28, finished his Nets tenure having averaged career-highs with 5.6 points while shooting 44.4% from beyond the arc in 16 minutes per game across 58 total appearances this past season. His production scaled, too, as he canned 49.5% of his triples en route to 7.2 points per game from late October through the trade deadline while averaging nearly 20.0 minutes.
Instead, a noted favorite of Durant’s gets to play alongside him once again, just as he did during that veritable breakout stretch.
“Around Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, Suns recruit a big wing pickup in Watanabe,” tweeted The Athletic and Stadium NBA insider Shams Charania on June 30. “Depth in frontcourt and a reunion with Durant.”
After the deadline, head coach Jacque Vaughn opted for more of a two-way approach to his rotations and Watanabe was largely out of it, seeing fewer than 10.0 minutes per night while appearing in 17 of their final 27 games. He had missed just 14 of the previous 55 games, 10 of which were due to an injury.
A former undrafted free agent who cut his teeth with the Memphis Grizzlies G League affiliate, Watanabe spent two seasons with the Toronto Raptors before being picked up by Brooklyn last offseason making the Suns his fourth team in what will be six seasons in the NBA.
“The last time my parents came to America was in the winter of 2019,” Watanabe wrote on Instagram in February. “That time they came to watch the game in Memphis G League. Many things have happened since then, but this time I was able to see an active player on the NBA court from the court side, and once again I thought I was glad I didn’t quit when it was hard.
“In this world that[‘s] full of challenges. That’s why it’s rewarding. Just gotta crawl back up from another one.”
Nets Losing a Budding International Star
Watanabe is a native of Yokohama, Japan, and his international status was on display at times this season. Fans pushed for him to be a part of the Three-Point contest during All-Star Weekend despite his limited exposure over the years.
He also led the way in jersey sales in his native Japan, two years after he last held the spot.
“He led the league in three-point shooting through the first month of the season – at 57%,” said Tas Melas of the ‘No Dunks’ podcast in February. “Teammates and fans have always loved him. And now he’s giving GMs a reason to keep him.”
That did not happen in Brooklyn, which has so far been his shortest stint with any team.
Yuta Watanabe’s Long-Term Outlook in Phoenix
These Suns might not be built to last either. Durant will turn 35 years old in September while the Suns’ other blockbuster trade acquisition, Beal, turned 30 years old in June.
Watanabe doesn’t have a lot of NBA mileage on his legs, nor is his game predicated on athleticism. He should be able to maintain his level of production for quite some time, granted that he is given the opportunity.