Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse can’t help but gush over what Yuta Watanabe has provided with his hustle and basketball IQ
Sometimes it seems as though Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse wishes he had a team full of Yuta Watanabes. It wouldn’t be the most talented team in the NBA, but when it comes to basketball IQ, defensive intensity, and hustle, the Toronto Watanabes would be tough to beat.
It’s crazy to think that Watanabe’s spot on the Raptors isn’t even financially guaranteed yet. He could — he won’t — be released ahead of the season with a negligible cost to Toronto. On paper, he’s part of the six-man group fighting for Toronto’s final three roster spots. But when you listen to Nurse talk about the 6-foot-9 forward, it’s clear Watanabe has set himself far apart not just from that group, but from everyone on the team.
“He’s playing the fastest of them all,” Nurse said of Watanabe’s hustle. “He is just such an instinctive player like that. Again, who is always getting the back-cut layup? Yuta is.
“As soon as someone barely let it go into the post, he had already made his cut. It was boom, and he was right there at the rim. I kind of wish he could pass some of that knowledge on to other guys.”
The Raptors are trying to do something a little different this season. They’re keeping their complex and aggressive systems in place, but they’re cranking up their pace of play. In their preseason opener, they played at a pace of 107.5 possessions per game, well above their 99.57 possession pace at last season and even faster than last year’s fastest team, the Washington Wizards.
It’s difficult stuff, Raptors rookie Dalano Banton said. Keeping that pace while staving off fatigue and maintaining composure isn’t for everyone.
But somehow, Watanabe is just different.
“He just has tremendous energy. He just knows only one speed to play at,” Nurse said Tuesday. “When he cuts, he cuts at 100 mph. When he cuts back out, he cuts back out at 100 mph. When he crashes the glass it’s at 100 mph. He really runs hard and can do it for an extended period of time.”
While Watanabe won’t be a keystone player for Toronto, he’s an important player to keep around the organization because of what he represents. Work hard, work smart, and don’t let up and good things will come your way.
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