Life is tough for a role player in the NBA. You hit your pregame warm-ups, work up a sweat, and then proceed to sit on the bench and wait. And when your name is called? The expectation is pristine production. The reality is that you will most likely not meet that expectation.
The Phoenix Suns, who are 12-8 after 20 games this season, is a roster built on role players. Their top-end talent is costly, which means a platoon of veteran minimum contracts make up the majority of their team. And these players are expected to come in and shoot lights out. Consistently.
One player who has high expectations and has been falling short is Yuta Watanabe.
Yuta was injured on an off day, while the Suns were in Philadelphia a couple of weeks back, taking a knee in the thigh. Have you ever had that happen to you? It is quite painful and the bruise it leaves behind looks like an impressionistic art piece. It meant that Yuta would miss time.
Prior to the injury, Watanabe was providing on-the-surface quality production. In 12 games played, he averaged 5.3 points in 18.6 minutes, shooting 37.2% from the deep and grabbing 2.7 rebounds. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that, like the majority of the team, he was adjusting to his new role on his new team. His 13.2 TO% and 3.5 fouls-per-36 showcased this adjustment.
Watanabe sat out four games before making his return, but his return reminded us that he has some work to do if he wants to permanently integrate himself into the regular rotation. And this needs to occur on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Watanabe has had challenges with his weak-side rotations this season on the defensive end, leaving players open to cut and free themselves of his defensive gravity. He has been late to recover, which has either led to an open shot or a foul by Yuta.
It’s tough being a role player, isn’t it?
His shaky defense is beginning to seep into his offensive game as well. In his three games back from injury, he is shooting 27.3% from the field. A player who normally possesses a confident three-point stroke isn’t as confident. He is beginning to do the Damion Lee special: a three-point shooter who pump-fakes a three and then aimlessly drives the ball, ultimately driving themselves into a turnover.
Yuta is he is bordering on entering a scary and dangerous zone as a player. It is one in which confidence is lacking and when that goes, so does the shot. It’s a frightening place we here in Phoenix call the “Shamet Zone”.
Has Yuta Watanabe entered...The Shamet Zone?! pic.twitter.com/02CdlIg1qv— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) December 3, 2023
You remember, Landry Shamet, don’t you? Brought to Phoenix to bring consistent shooting from beyond the arc, Landry Shamet possessed a flat shot, an overpriced contract, and a visible lack of confidence. While he could put together stellar performances, they were few and far between. His inconsistent play led to a lack of shooting confidence, which is what the Suns needed him to be and be coming off the bench.
Unfortunately, it appears that Yuta Watanabe has entered the Shamet Zone and Frank Vogel is aware of it. Since his return, Yuta has continued to display a lack of confidence on the court. It has come at an unfortunate time for the sixth-year wing because other players have had opportunities to fill his minutes and they’ve taken advantage. Nassir Little provides offense but also provides quality defense minutes, something Yuta wasn’t necessarily doing.
Of course I am being facetious with the Shamet Zone. Landry was earning $9.5 million annually with Phoenix while Yuta is on a veteran minimum contract. But he is bordering the fringges of the rotation currently due to his lack of effectiveness on both ends of the floor.
I have compared his frantic defensive approach to that of Animal from the Muppets. His arms flailing as he attempts to recover from a rotation that he missed. It isn’t a recipe for success if you’re looking to garner extra minutes in a Frank Vogel system.
The good news for Watanabe is the Suns have only played 20 games this season. He has plenty of time to step up like Drew Eubanks and Nassir Little have before him. He has plenty of time to work his way out of the Shamet Zone.