Yuta Watanabe has been on three teams across his five-year NBA tenure. He also spent time (56 games) in the NBA G League as well. He's always a happy player knowing he's playing in the league but his happiness has reached an all-time high with the Brooklyn Nets.
Watanabe, who entered the season fighting for a roster spot, has solidified his role with the Nets. Before going down with a right hamstring strain - an injury that will cost him his ninth straight game against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday - he carved out a name for himself in the borough, becoming one of the most effective shooters across the league and a valuable piece off the bench. That's something even he didn't expect coming into his new opportunity.
"I guess no one expected, right? Even myself," said Watanabe on expecting to be a valuable piece towards Brooklyn's success. "In training camp, my goal was to make the team. I was going to slowly gain confidence, the trust, and getting a little bit more playing time. I wasn't expecting to play this much since the beginning. I do appreciate the coaching staff trusting me and teammates trusting me."
Since going down with the right hamstring strain, it's been frustrating for the Japanese wing to remain off the hardwood after playing very well. He praised the team's training staff for helping him get closer to a return - a return he hopes comes Friday or Saturday.
"Definitely. I thought I was playing really well. I was finally getting some playing time. So I was really enjoying the moment. It's definitely frustrating," Watanabe said. "The injury taking me out but you know, it's part of a basketball. Since I got injured, I just coming here getting treatment every day. I really appreciate the training staff being there for me every day. My leg is getting better now so hopefully, I can be back on the court this weekend."
The Nets' head coach Jacque Vaughn disclosed that the injured wing is expected to make his return either against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday in Brooklyn or the Indiana Pacers on the road Saturday night.
"He was able to play a little half court-ish today with some coaches and other players a little bit," said Vaughn on Watanabe's injury development. "That part looked good. I saw him shoot the other day; which looked good. Hopefully, we'll get him in one of those games this weekend."
"I've been getting some shots up. Today, I did a little bit more work: 2-on-2s, 3-on-3s. I felt good," said Watanabe on what he's been able to do. "Hopefully I can play this weekend. I want to play those two games but I'll see how I feel tomorrow morning and the day after tomorrow."
The Nets will have till Jan. 10 to make a decision on whether to keep the 6-foot-8 wing on their roster. On that day, his partially guaranteed contract becomes fully guaranteed for the remainder of the season. Watanabe has more than likely earned his spot with Brooklyn going forward - a place where he's at his happiest.
"I'm always a happy guy no matter what. But definitely playing some minutes and playing with some greats that's definitely I would say the happiest moment now," said Watanabe with a glimmering smile.
Watanabe is averaging 8.1 points on 60.9 percent shooting from the field and 78.3 percent shooting from 3-Point range to pair with 2.9 boards, and 0.9 assists in 18.2 minutes per game. He's played in only 14 of Brooklyn's 25 games.