Yuta the shoota: Nets Watanabe becoming one of NBA’s best shooters

Brooklyn Nets forward Yuta Watanabe (18) reacts to a foul call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.
AP Photo/Rusty Jones

Kevin Durant chuckled a bit when Nets forward Yuta Watanabe was brought up after Brooklyn’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. The Nets superstar had just been asked if he had to pick one player in a three-point contest, would he take Yura or Steph Curry? 

Durant jokingly said himself at first before acknowledging the way Watanabe had been knocking down threes this season. Watanabe shot better than 50% from beyond the arc for the 10th time this season on Sunday, shooting 6-of-9 from three-point range and growing the legend that has become Yuta Watanabe. 

“Yuta is definitely knocking it down right now,” Durant said. “He’s shooting the ball extremely well for us. Spacing the floor but he also driving the ball when he catches it. He’s making the right play right now. I think when you make the right plays, the shots feel a little better leaving your hand.” 

Watanabe’s six three-pointers set a new career best and he finished the night with 16 points against the Grizzlies. He sent Barclays Center into a frenzy when he knocked down four of his six total threes in the fourth quarter. 

With 7:09 left in the quarter, Watanabe hit a corner three and then ran down the court in celebration, which included a little a little trash talking to his former team. 

“It’s like the epitome of basketball. Why basketball is so special,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said about Watanabe’s success. “To be able to be on the same floor with him and his journey, and see him have success, and the guys cheer for him. To me, that’s why I love being around the game. He works on his game. He does all the right things and to see a person get rewarded. It’s a great part of basketball.” 

The Japanese forward’s success comes after the Nets signed him to a non-guaranteed minimum contract. He has quickly become a major contributor for the Nets and has topped some of the league’s best early in the year with his shooting. 

Watanabe has a 57.1 three-point percentage following the game on Sunday and an effective field goal percentage of 76.6%. Both of those are the best in the NBA. 

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“We love his energy,” Durant said. “He hit big shots for us so we always get excited for the teammates, especially guys who come in and, not necessarily have a guaranteed spot on the team, but work their way into the rotation. Put their imprint on the game from day one. So excited for him and at this point we want to continue to, at this point I think we should expect that he gonna Go out there and play good basketball.

“I’m not saying he’s gonna make every shot and you know, shoot 70% from the field for the rest of the year, but just playing solid ball on both ends of the floor and we expect everyone now.”

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