Last year’s two-way player Yuta Watanabe is back for year two on a two-way deal to lead the Memphis Hustle to another playoff run. Meanwhile, he’ll be eyeing a potential call-up as a main roster mainstay.
He has the momentum to make it a reality, too.
Watanabe had a big summer, as he showed out in both the Summer League and the FIBA tournament. He showcased his skill as an all-around scorer that can handle go-to scoring responsibilities. All of which is enticing for a team looking for a punch from the perimeter.
Can he put it all together to become a legitimate NBA player?
2018-19 Season Overview
15 games, 11.6 MPG, 2.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 assists-per-game, 29.4/12.5/70.0 shooting line
Yuta Watanabe didn’t get much time to shine with the main roster last season, only surpassing the 10-minute mark in six of his 15 appearances. In those games, he really struggled to find a rhythm, as the NBA game — at times — looked too fast for him.
However, Watanabe has emerged as a fan favorite in Memphis, as there’s always a pop whenever he enters the game.
Like last season, Watanabe will likely spend more time with the Hustle than the Grizzlies, as he has 45 NBA days on his two-way contract.
With the Grizzlies, he’s simply an insurance player for someone in foul trouble or with injuries. Or, he’s a player that’ll put it at the end of blowout games.
With the Hustle, he gets the benefit of running the show. In the G-League, he’ll get to be the Hustle’s primary playmaker and go-to scorer, which is a great way for him to develop to potentially play a role in Coach Taylor Jenkins’ pace-and-space offense.
2019-20 Best Case Scenario
Best-case scenario, Yuta Watanabe shows out during his two-way stint and becomes a main-roster mainstay by the end of the season.
The Memphis Grizzlies wing depth is pretty weak at the moment, and a breakout for any player in that mix could lead to exponentially more playing time. Yuta isn’t excluded from this conversation.
His game is unique for someone his size, as he has a smooth feel for the game. He can score at all 3 levels, and he could handle the ball as a secondary playmaker for small spurts. Defensively, he has the tools to be a multi-positional defender as well.
If Watanabe takes his Summer League and FIBA flashes into the NBA season, the Grizzlies may have to do some roster-maneuvering to find a spot for him, maybe doing a 2-for-1 or 3-for-2 deal to open up a roster spot for him.
2019-20 Worst Case Scenario
Worst-case scenario for Yuta is, he proves to be too good for G-League, but not good enough for the NBA. In addition, he’s cut before January 15th — the final day to sign new two-way deals.
Though he possesses the skill set and physical tools to thrive in the NBA, the speed of the game shows to be too much for him. In addition, others on the main roster emerge as solidified rotational pieces, leaving no room for Watanabe to breakthrough.
If that proves to be the case, they’ll probably keep him with the Memphis Hustle more often than with the main roster this season, as they won’t worry about the idea of using up all his NBA days.
Watanabe could be on the main roster by the end of the season. I don’t think they would’ve allowed him to stay on a two-way contract, if they’re not at least exploring it as an option.
He showed in Summer League and FIBA that he could make an impact in a NBA setting, as he was responsible for a large portion of the Grizzlies’ offense. As the Grizzlies are experimenting and figuring out what works best for their time, Watanabe could emerge as a nice player, if his performance carries over from the Summer League and FIBA play.
He has the tools. At 6’9”, he can play both forward positions, handle the rock, score at all 3 levels, and defend across positions. Whether or not he catches up to speed will determine his NBA fate.