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Nets’ Watanabe making summer impact

Undrafted free agent proving himself capable during exhibitions

July 11, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Yuta Watanabe’s sweet left-handed shooting stroke and ability to defend might just get him a serious look in Nets’ training camp later this year as the rookie tries to latch on with the Brooklyn franchise. AP Photo by John Locher
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“Yuta Man!” might be the chant that’s heard resounding through the Barclays Center next season if undrafted free agent forward Yuta Watanabe continues to play as he has throughout the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League campaign.

The 6-foot-9, 215-pound George Washington University alum has been the Nets’ most impressive player through the first three games of the five-exhibition contest slate, making a case that he could be the “Stretch Four” Brooklyn has been looking for via the draft and free agency this summer.

“He’s making me more comfortable, the coaching staff for sure,” said Jacque Vaughn, the Nets’ assistant who is serving as head coach during the club’s two-week stint in Las Vegas.

“He has probably been our most consistent player, practices and games included. I give him credit for that.”

Watanabe is averaging a team-high 11.6 points against the Summer League squads of the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves thus far, pouring in 14 points while draining 4-of-6 3-pointers against the T-Wolves on Monday.

With the Nets slated to take on the Houston Rockets on Wednesday evening, Watanabe, who averaged a team-high 16.3 points per game at GW as a senior and was named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, has two games left to prove he belongs on the Nets’ roster going into training camp.

Even if he doesn’t make the final cut later this year, the 23-year-old Japanese national team member can earn a spot on the franchise’s G-League (Developmental) squad on Long Island.

Watanabe’s big frame and deft left-handed shooting touch meld perfectly with head coach Kenny Atkinson’s run-and-gun, 3-point assault system.

He also has shown good hands, a strong basketball acumen and the ability to get back and make his presence felt on defense during the oftentimes scrambled summer scrimmages.

“The effort that he’s given on the defensive end of the floor [has been impressive] too,” Vaughn noted.

“So, it’s a combination of making the right play offensively, being unselfish and then laying his body on the line defensively.”

Another Net who is enjoying his summer in Vegas is second-year center Jarrett Allen, coming off a stellar rookie campaign in which he averaged 8.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over his first 72 NBA games.

The somewhat lithe 7-footer out of the University of Texas sat out last year’s Summer League action while recovering from a hip injury.

But he made the most of his Vegas debut on Monday, scoring eight points, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds and blocking five shots against Minnesota.

“It’s been my dream to play in Summer League,” said Allen. “Watching on TV growing up, I wanted to play in it.”

“It was good to see him out there,” added Vaughn regarding the Nets’ first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. “I think his impact was definitely on the defensive end of the floor, being able to protect the rim for us. You saw how bouncy he was getting up and down. I think he interjected some life into his teammates too. It was good to see.”

Though he just turned 20 in April, Allen realizes the importance of participating in as many team events as possible in advance of his second season in Brooklyn as he tries to take on a leadership role with a team that is bidding to reach the postseason for the first time since 2015.

“The leaders are the ones that go into war with your guys,” Allen said on the team’s website.

“It’s tough sitting on the sidelines telling them what to do from there. To finally be able to get in there and be in there with them, I finally get to show them, ‘I’m here with you guys. I’m in the battle.’”

Nothing But Net: Newly drafted Nets Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa have not played in any of the first three Summer League contests, and Vaughn indicated following the team’s third straight exhibition loss that neither rookie would see playing time before the team heads back to Brooklyn. “I think those odds are probably more negative than positive, right now,” said Vaughn, who also included Caris LeVert as a player that wouldn’t see any time in Vegas. … Newly re-signed sharpshooter Joe Harris is also in Nevada watching his teammates fresh off inking a two-year, $16 million pact to remain in Brooklyn, which he has grown to love during his first two campaigns in our fair borough. Harris averaged 10.8 points per game last season while draining nearly 42 percent of his 3-point attempts. You’re living in an amazing place,” Harris said of just one of the factors that helped him remain a Net. “You’re playing in the Barclays Center, you’re playing in front of great fans. It’s tough to beat that. I think Brooklyn is easily one of the best NBA cities out there. It’s hard to compete with everything that Brooklyn has to offer as a city. I know that, and I’ve really enjoyed just being there the last couple of years.”

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