Losses and injuries are piling up for the Raptors. They could have used Yuta Watanabe in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY—Sitting in the front row of courtside seats, subconsciously rubbing his calf every now and then, Yuta Watanabe laid out just what it feels like watching the Raptors play rather than joining them.
It’s not good. Not good at all.
“Really frustrating,” the 27-year-old forward said here Thursday morning, hours before the Raptors lost for the sixth time in seven games, dropping a 119-103 decision to the Utah Jazz. “My leg is painful, but what is the most painful is now that they’re playing basketball. That’s what I love doing it. So it’s been very stressful to be honest.
“I just love playing basketball.”
Coming off the most productive basketball summer of his life — an Olympic appearance for Japan in Tokyo, and weeks of honing his skills to make himself more valuable to the Raptors — Watanabe has yet to feel that joy of playing the game he loves so much.
He’s been out with a strained calf muscle since training camp, seemingly recovered once before reinjuring himself in one practice with the G League Raptors 905. He may be closer to making his season debut, but he’s not there yet and it eats at him.
“The first time I got it, we knew it (was going to) take only, like, three weeks. But then I got the setback, so after that it’s been almost a month. It’s been nearly as stressful the last few weeks, to be honest.”
Exacerbating Watanabe’s frustration is that there’s a definite need for him with the Raptors, and a role for him to play.
Thursday’s jarring news that OG Anunoby is now out indefinitely after suffering a hip pointer in a short practice Wednesday in Portland has further thinned out the frontcourt options for coach Nick Nurse.
Anunoby, Watanabe and Precious Achiuwa were all scratched for Thursday night’s game against the Utah Jazz. All three would have been valuable pieces for the coach to have.
“Pascal (Siakam) has got to kind of fill in there for OG, a little bit more like he’s probably used to,” Nurse said Thursday morning. “ And Khem (Birch) and Chris (Boucher have) got to bring it. They’re going to have to bring a good 25 minutes each, 30 maybe … And other guys got to bring it, too.”
Birch certainly gave the Raptors a bit extra, scoring a season-high 14 points after replacing Anunoby in the starting lineup. But Siakam and Boucher were non-factors as Toronto fell to 7-9 on the season heading into a game Friday night in Sacramento.
Siakam had just four points with four turnovers and only one rebound in 31 minutes, Boucher provided no spark of energy and Toronto’s makeshift backup group of Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton, Boucher and Svi Mykhailiuk were wildly outplayed by Utah’s subs.
Watanabe might be been able to provide a spark and pick up some of the slack. He’s an active energy boost off the bench, which the team sorely needs, and was looking more confident than ever at the Olympics and in summer workouts.
“It looked like he had made a significant jump up, just in his confidence level, just to take the shots — and obviously increased the making part of it, too,” Nurse said.
“I think those two things work hand in hand. When you come off believing you should take them and you feel free to take them, I think that certainly raises your confidence. And he does all the other stuff. He moves and runs and cuts and gets those layups here and there off the cutting. That’s a great part of the offence that we miss.”
Watanabe was originally injured making a routine layup with no contact in a scrimmage and immediately thought he had popped his Achilles — “That was really scary,” he said — before an exam showed it was just his calf.
He got through the initial recovery process on schedule before suffering the same injury in the only 905 practice he took part in.