One of the coolest things to watch with the bench on this early-season Phoenix Suns squad has been Yuta Watanabe and the relentless energy he brings on both ends.
Watanabe’s constant movement offensively forces defenses to always pay attention to what he’s up to. The Suns noticed this early in camp too; I can recall Frank Vogel noting the “antenna” Devin Booker developed. I’m excited to see that antenna in action once Booker’s back in the lineup.
Through four games, Watanabe is averaging what would be a career-high 7.3 points, shooting 43.8% on a career-high 4.0 3PA. That’s good for the best three-point percentage on the team, just edging out Grayson Allen’s 43.5% on 5.8 3PA. Allen gets the edge in three-point rate where both are top two on the team again; Allen at .742 and Watanabe at .727.
Looking closer at how Watanabe’s attempts are coming, all 16 of his three-point looks are off the catch. He’s struggled to hit over the defense (2-of-7 for 28.6% when contested) but is about as sure as threes can be when open (5-of-9 for 55.6% when open).
The constant movement mentioned earlier helps to open up those looks, but as the star guards make their returns and the open shots will be even easier to come by.
With his family in town from Japan this week, Watanabe had his best scoring night of the year on Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs, finishing with 11 on 4-of-8 shooting, the most makes of any game this season as well.
here are yuta's season-high four made baskets (incl. 3-4 3p) vs spurs on halloween. pic.twitter.com/U1mpyB1XnL— Damon Allred (@iamdamonallred) November 1, 2023
None of these baskets came as a product of standing around and waiting for the game to come to him; Watanabe forces the issue, which — again — will only be magnified when more of the stars are back in the rotation.
Defensively, he brings the same approach — never not moving. It helps put him in the right place at the right time, finding steals like he has recently, once vs. San Antonio and twice vs. Utah Jazz on Saturday.
here are yuta's three steals on the season, all coming in the last two games. pic.twitter.com/QKRXKPwWWr— Damon Allred (@iamdamonallred) November 1, 2023
Watanabe has great defensive recognition of where he needs to be. He’ll often shoot screen lanes before they become an issue, almost in a preventative way so it never does become one.
He sprints on contests, always giving the requisite effort, helping him reach two blocks; Watanabe is just one of five Suns with multiple blocks on the season so far. He’s also second on the team among non-starters in contested shots per game (4.0, behind 7.3 from Drew Eubanks).
He ranks third on the team in individual defensive rating (99.4, ahead of Kevin Durant’s 101.0) while playing the seventh-most minutes on the team (73, tied with Eubanks).
I know it has to feel like a broken record at this point for Suns fans, but rest easy. There are some awesome role players on this team, Watanabe included. Once the big three start logging some minutes together, and the Suns are able to stagger them throughout the 48 minutes, it’s going to be beautiful to watch everyone thrive off that.