There's still a lot of unknowns around what Yuta Watanabe brings to the Toronto Raptors but one thing is for sure, he gives maximum effort every time out.
So when Yahoo Sports Canada's William Lou asked Watanabe if he was tired after the Raptors' 107-102 win over the Pacers last Sunday, his response was as real as it gets.
"I'm not going to lie I'm tired," Watanabe said. "I think I'm in good shape...I think I played like 20 minutes today but yeah, I'm really tired right now."
Watanabe gave the Raptors a season-high 21 minutes. He scored just three points shooting 1-for-7 from the field, pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots. On paper, that's an outing that wouldn't earn much praise, especially at the NBA level, but sometimes the eye-test beats the numbers. With both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam out with injuries, Watanabe got extra minutes that wouldn't normally be available. For a two-way player like him, those opportunities could be few and far between, but to Watanabe's credit, he stepped onto the floor and emptied his tank giving Toronto everything he had.
It's almost like Watanabe understands that this may be his last chance to crack an NBA roster full-time. The reality is it might be. Watanabe is on the final two-way contract he's allowed to sign. Only players with three or fewer years of NBA service are able to sign two-way deals. With Watanabe in Year 3 of his NBA journey, it's now or maybe never for him.
Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, teams are able to keep two-way players for up to 50 games in 2020-21. Under normal circumstances, two-way players are only eligible for 45 days of service. If we were under normal circumstances, Watanabe's time with the team would be over in February. Instead, he can be around for close to 70 percent of the Raptors' game this season to prove he belongs.
The question is, does he? And if so, can Toronto benefit from his skillset? It's honestly too early to tell, but here's what we can look at to make an educated guess.
First off the Raptors have been a better team defensively when Watanabe is on the floor. Toronto is holding opponents to 103.1 points per 100 possessions with Watanabe on the floor and giving up 110.1 points per 100 possession when he's not on the court. Some of Watanabe's time on the court has come in garbage time or against primarily bench units but when he does play alongside the regular rotational players there has been success.
Watanabe has played the majority of his minutes in a lineup featuring Fred VanVleet, Siakam, Norm Powell and Chris Boucher. That five-man lineup has a net rating of 47.8 according to NBA Stats.
With Watanabe on the floor alongside, Powell, Boucher, Lowry and Stanley Johnson - otherwise known as Lowry and the bench - their net rating is 38.6. Again we're dealing with small sample sizes this early in the season but they're encouraging nonetheless.
Toronto is currently one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league. The Raptors are averaging just 33.1 defensive board per game which ranks 27th in the league and hold a defensive rebound percentage of 71.8 which ranks 25th according to NBA Stats.
Watanabe has been one of the more reliable defensive rebounders on the team, holding a defensive rebound percentage of 21.8, which ranks first on the roster ahead of Aron Baynes' 20.9 percent.
Energy isn't a stat, but it does pop on a screen in a regular-season game when you see it. Watanabe has been providing that in his short spurts on the floor for Toronto, but some numbers also point towards him having a positive effect on the team. Add that to the fact that he's more skilled than he gets credit for. He moves well for his size and has a nice shooting stroke that can help the Raptors spacing when he's on the floor.
Will it be enough to earn him a regular slot in the rotation? Time will tell. But if Watanabe doesn't turn his two-way contract into a full one it won't be for lack of effort.
*All stats as of Jan. 28th
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