They may not have won the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but the Japanese men’s national basketball still had an opportunity this summer to solidify a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics with a win on Saturday morning. With Phoenix Suns forward Yuta Watanabe rostered, the team simply had to run the table against Venezuela and Cape Verde to do so.
Thursday they beat Venezuela. Today they beat Cape Verde, 80-71.
Japan, who went 1-2 in World Cup play, and were the only Asian team to garner a win in the tournament. Their losses lead them to the Classification Round, which allowed them an opportunity to attempt to solidify a spot in next summer’s Olympics.
Yuta Watanabe played a part in the victory over Cape Verde, although it wasn’t where Suns’ fans expect him to contribute during the 2023-24 NBA season. It was his presence on the boards that helped his team rather than his shooting. Yuta the Shoota had a rough night in that capacity. Playing all 40 minutes, Watanabe went 2-of-11 from the field — 0-of-5 from beyond the arc — while grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds for Japan.
It was once again Joshua Hawkinson who led Japan in scoring, doing so with a game-high 29 points. Hawkinson, who currently plays for Sun Rockers Shibuya in in Japan’s B League, has been Japan's best player throughout the summer. He’s averaged 21 points and 10.8 rebounds for the team.
This will be the 9th appearance for the Japanese in the Olympic games, their last being in 2020. Prior to that, the team had not played in the Olympics since the 1976 games in Montreal, Canada.
Yuta Watanabe finishes his summer FIBA play averaging 14.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. In 35 average minutes, he shot just 25.8% from three-point range.
Yuta Watanabe's FIBA run is over with Japan earning a spot in the 2024 Olympics.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) September 2, 2023
His FIBA stats this summer:
25.8 3PT% pic.twitter.com/Eyq4je1ujI
That three-point percentage is the statistic that jumps off the tweet. It isn’t necessarily the performance, in it’s totality, that you’d like to see from Yuta. Watanabe was brought the Phoenix to be a sniper off the bench, as he has shot 39% from deep over his entire 5-year career. Last season that number was 44.4%. It’s the one metric that we were anxious to see how he would perform given that will be his role in the Valley.
But this isn't NBA basketball. That wasn’t his role with the Japanese team.
Before everyone goes all Jeffery Goines in the chat, here is a reminder: There is no doubt that Yuta can shoot the three-ball. He just didn’t do so as efficiently over a five-game span of international play. It is a small sample size in which he played 35 minutes. He averages 13.3 minutes in NBA play. He was asked to more than simply come in and pop some three’s. He was asked to play defense. He was asked to rebound. He was asked to serve a role and he did so, whilst injured I might remind you.
Would you have liked to see Yuta carry his NBA average over to Japan? Sure. But don’t freak out that he didn’t. Or do. You do you, boo.
Congratulations to the Japanese team. We will see you in Paris in 2024!