After putting together a super team that features three All-Stars in Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, and Kevin Durant, some thought the Phoenix Suns might have trouble filling out their roster. But the opportunity to win a championship in Phoenix had some players willing to take a pay cut to join the team. One of those players was Durant’s former Brooklyn Nets teammate, Yuta Watanabe.
Watanabe was not a household name heading into last season. But amid a season of chaos for the Nets franchise, he was one of their more consistent players. Watanabe believes las year was a “breakthrough season” for him.
“It (2022-23) definitely was a breakthrough season for me,” Watanabe said in a recent interview with Takehiko Inoue via the Kyodo News.
“I never had the chance to play important minutes in previous seasons. This past season, I was getting court time late in games where we were separated by a point or two, and there were actually times when I was able to hit game-winning shots. I felt I was being counted as an option for the first time.”
The ex-Nets sharpshooter had a coming out party in 2023, where he shot a scorching 44% from beyond the arc, elevating himself as one of the top marksmen in the NBA.
Watanabe Sounds off on Last Season With Nets
Watanabe endured a season of pandemonium in Brooklyn last year. He signed with the franchise last August, right after Durant had ended his trade demand. As if that was not dramatic enough, the Nets fired head coach Steve Nash just a few games into the season.
The team performed well after Jacque Vaughn was named head coach. But after the Nets and Kyrie Irving could not agree on the terms of a new deal, he demanded a trade from the franchise. Shortly after, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, and Durant got traded to the Suns days later.
But despite all the madness in Brooklyn last season, Watanabe says he was able to keep his composure.
“I really had a sense that I was performing well this season, so I was unexpectedly calm,” Watanabe said of his feelings after the departures of Durant and Irving.
“The roster changed after the trade, and given the team policy, I had no illusions and accepted that my minutes would go down. To be honest, I was confident I could contribute if my minutes went back up.”
Yuta Watanabe Spills on His ‘Effort’
Watanabe was one of the more desirable role players during this free agency period. His efficient marksmanship is something every team can use in this era of volume three-point shooting.
But Watanabe was not always a player sought out by teams, especially a contender like the Suns. After going undrafted in 2018, the sharpshooter spent time in the G-League as a two-way player with the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. But after securing his first standard NBA deal with the Nets last season, he showed how much he had grown and developed, becoming a key rotation player.
The sharpshooter knows he will never fit the bill of being a star in the NBA. And that means he will have to put in that much more effort when his number gets called.
“Having watched many players over the past five years, the bottom line is whether you are putting in the effort,” Watanabe added. “I don’t have any special ability (for an NBA player), and because of that, I have to focus on that aspect.”