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Six-Year Veteran Plans to Leave NBA for Japan in 2024-25

Yuta Watanabe is set to retire and play professionally in Japan after this season.

Going undrafted in 2018, Yuta Watanabe has carved out a six-season career in the NBA thus far. It doesn’t appear that he will become a seven-year NBA veteran in the 2024-25 season.

Appearing on Instagram Live, the 29-year-old Watanabe stated that he will be playing in Japan in 2024-25.

Six-Year Veteran Plans to Leave NBA for Japan in 2024-25

Watanabe Played Last Season for the Suns and Grizzlies

The Phoenix Suns needed to fill their bench this offseason with low-salary players due to Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal taking up so much salary. One of the players they signed was Watanabe who played the 2022-23 season with the Brooklyn Nets. Watanabe and the Suns agreed on a two-year deal worth slightly over $5 million. The contract had a player option for 2024-25 for around $2.65 million.

The 6-9 forward started the season in Phoenix’s rotation appearing in each of the first 12 games. Watanabe stepped on the court in just 17 of the Suns next 40 games. On February 8, he was involved in a three-team deal that saw him moved to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Due to the amount of injuries for Memphis players, it was expected that Watanabe could see a decent amount of playing time. He played just five games for the Grizzlies though, missing the final 20 due to injuries and personal reasons.

Watanabe had previously proven to be a solid three-point shooter, but that wasn’t the case in 2023-24. He made just 25 of his 85 (29.4%) attempts from beyond the arc with the Suns and Grizzlies. He played 13.6 minutes per game in his 34 outings posting averages of 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds.

Career-Best Season for Watanabe Came in 2022-23

Part of the reason that the Suns signed Watanabe to help fill their bench was due to his one season with the Nets in 2022-23.

With Brooklyn, he received the most playing time of his career at 16 minutes per contest. He was very accurate from three-point territory connecting on 60 of his 135 tries (44.4%). Watanabe also averaged a career-high of 5.6 points.

Prior to his time with the Nets, Watanabe played his first two seasons with the Grizzlies in 2018-19 and 2019-20. His next two seasons came with the Toronto Raptors in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

In 213 career regular season games (nine starts), Watanabe has averages of 4.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.6 assists. He has made 42.6% of his field goal attempts and 37.0% of his three-point tries.

Second Player Ever Born in Japan to Play in The NBA

When Yuta Watanabe made his NBA debut on October. 27, 2018, he became just the second player ever to appear in an NBA game that was born in Japan.

Watanabe lived in Japan until 2013 when he moved to the United States to play high school basketball for St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Oakdale, Connecticut. He then played four years collegiately for George Washington University where he was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

The first Japanese-born player in the NBA is Yuta Tabuse. In the 2004-05 season, Tabuse played in four games for the Suns totaling seven points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Rui Hachimura, now of the Los Angeles Lakers, became the third player born in Japan to play in the NBA when he made his debut on October 23 2019, with the Washington Wizards.

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