The Suns’ star trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal understandably make the headlines, but it’s Phoenix’s supporting cast that brings things together. Among that supporting cast is reserve forward Yuta Watanabe, who is both a fan favorite and a favorite of his teammates.
“Such a bright basketball player,” Durant has said of Watanabe. “[I] feel like he’s always in the right spot. He plays extremely hard on the defensive side of the ball as well and then on top of that, his jump shot is getting better and better each year.”
Through eight games this season, Watanabe is averaging 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game. While the numbers may or may not jump off the page, his presence while on the floor speaks volumes.
Who is Yuta Watanabe? Learn more about the sixth-year forward who will be looked upon to play a key role for Phoenix this season.
Who is Yuta Watanabe?
Watanabe is a Japanese forward in his sixth season in the NBA. The 2023-24 season is his first with the Suns.
Watanabe was born in Yokohama, Japan and attended Jinsei Gakuen High School in Kagawa, Japan. At the age of 19, Watanabe moved to the United States and spent a season at St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Connecticut.
Considered a three-star recruit by 247Sports, Watanabe elected to play collegiately at George Washington University in Washington, enrolling as a freshman in 2014.
Yuta Watanabe college stats
Watanabe spent four seasons at George Washington, becoming a full-time starter late in his freshman year.
As a junior, Watanabe evolved into an elite defender, earning a selection to the Atlantic-10 All-Defense Team while averaging 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks over 28 games.
In his senior season, Watanabe took another leap, averaging 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 blocks over 33 games. At the end of the year, he earned another Atlantic-10 All-Defense selection and was named Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
As it stands, Watanabe is second all-time in school history in games played (134) and total blocks (147). He ranks 16th all-time in school history in points (1,460).
Yuta Watanabe NBA career
After going undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, Watanabe signed with the Nets’ Summer League team.
Over five Summer League games, he stood out with averages of 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Watanabe’s performance caught the attention of a number of teams and he earned a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, splitting time with the NBA franchise and its G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle.
Watanabe appeared in 33 games with the Grizzlies from 2018 to 2020. As a free agent in 2020, he signed an Exhibit 10 deal with the Raptors, which was converted to a two-way contract ahead of the 2020-21 season.
During the 2020-21 season, Watanabe saw his two-way contract converted to a standard NBA deal. He would remain with the Raptors for one more season, scoring a career-high 26 points against the Cavaliers in late December 2021.
At the end of his tenure with the Raptors, Watanabe signed with the Nets as a free agent, wowing Durant and others with his work ethic and sharpshooting. A free agent following the 2022-23 season, Watanabe reunited with Durant by signing with the Suns.
How to pronounce Yuta Watanabe
Yuta Watanabe is pronounced “YOU-tuh wah-tuh-NAH-bay,” per the NBA’s pronunciation guide.
You can hear Watanabe pronounce his name at the beginning of this video from 2019:
Yuta Watanabe stats
4.4 points per game
2.5 rebounds per game
0.7 assists per game
43.7 percent field goal shooting
38.6 percent 3-point shooting
69.5 percent free throw shooting