There isn’t quite a stat that sums Yuta Watanabe’s impact on the Nets early into the season.
A player’s net rating is usually a good place to start because it calculates a team’s score against an opponent’s score in the minutes that player is on the court. Watanabe’s net rating through the first nine games of the Nets’ season is a plus-2.5.
For reference, Kyrie Irving’s net rating is a minus-2.8, Kevin Durant’s is a minus-five, and Ben Simmons’ is a minus-13.9.
Therein lies the issue in using solely statistics to calculate a player’s impact: Durant is one of the most impactful players in all of basketball, but because he plays the lion’s share of the minutes for a Nets team that started the season with a 2-6 record, the number next to his name indicates the team does not do well when he plays.
Which is why the only number that matters for Watanabe, who is emerging as a legitimate rotation player on a team with championship hopes, is the number of minutes he plays on a nightly basis for the remainder of the regular season.
Watanabe is the unlikely impact player this Nets team needed to sustain the drama they’ve found themselves in between Irving’s five-game suspension and Simmons’ injury issues. He is an embodiment of the next-man-up mentality that has been associated with the Nets through general manager Sean Marks’ tenure in Brooklyn.
And he’s a player who is quite clearly the darling for Nets governor Joe Tsai. Watanabe is one of just Japanese NBA players, the other being Washigton’s Rui Hachimura. Tsai is the NBA’s only Chinese team owner.
Watanabe is clearly making Tsai proud. The Nets governor tweeted “Where’s my Yuta highlights?” at the Nets after the forward, who is on a non-guaranteed contract, was a driving force in the Nets’ 42-point victory over the Wizards on Friday.
He couldn’t have asked for those highlights if Watanabe didn’t play well.
But he did, which is becoming the norm on a Brooklyn team that needs all the help it can get while four rotation players – including Seth Curry (ankle) and T.J. Warren (foot) – sort through the issues that are keeping them off the court. In 24 minutes, Watanabe scored 14 points and made six of his eight shot attempts. The Nets outscored the Wizards by 21 in his minutes off the bench.
Not to mention the defense – two blocks and a steal against the Wizards, plus another two blocks against the Chicago Bulls, including a chasedown swat on DeMar DeRozan.
Watanabe is maximizing his time on both ends of the floor, which is why the Nets need him on it more often than not.
CLAX CAN’T MISS (EXCEPT AT THE LINE)
Nets center Nic Claxton currently leads the NBA in field goal percentage.
It’s a testament to the growth both on and off the court – what Steve Nash called a more professional approach to his craft during the offseason. Claxton has made 51 shots and has only missed 19. He shot 9-of-10 from the field against the Wizards to move into first place.
Claxton is averaging 12.6 points on 73% shooting from the field.
A bit more concerning is his 41% clip from the free throw line. Free throws were a point of emphasis after he broke Shaquille O’Neal’s record and missed 10 straight foul shots in Game 4 against the Boston Celtics last season.
Claxton will need to improve on that, but he has taken a step forward in every other part of his game.
One game after Durant turned the ball over six times and said “get used to my turnovers” because five players are guarding him at all times, he dished 11 assists to only two giveaways against the Wizards on Friday.
Another player with a surprise playmaking performance? Second-year guard Cam Thomas, known-best for his scoring abilities, who tallied six assists with zero turnovers in the same game.