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A LOT of Eyes Will Be on Yuta Watanabe vs. Rui Hachimura Tonight

© Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of storylines for tonight’s matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. The teams’ first NBA In-Season Tournament game, Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James and the home debut of Bradley Beal are just a few things fans will have their eyes on tonight. However, the country of Japan will be watching two of its best NBA players, Yuta Watanabe and Rui Hachimura, dual it out among all of these circumstances.

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Tonight’s game tips off at 8 p.m. MST at Footprint Center. For those living in Tokyo, this will be a noon game on Saturday.

The two forwards have quickly developed into key role players for two of the best teams in the NBA, playing behind and learning from the likes of Durant and James.

Watanabe spent half of last season with Durant in Brooklyn, and after Durant helped recruit him to the Suns, he signed with Phoenix this offseason.

He has already become one of the best bench pieces for the Suns. The scrappy, knockdown three-point shooter is averaging 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in a career-high 19.9 minutes per game for the Suns so far.

Hachimura was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Lakers in January. He really burst onto the scene in the playoffs last season, becoming the first Laker since Magic Johnson to post two consecutive 20-point games off the bench in the postseason.

Hachimura is coming off his best performance of the season, as he put up 24 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday’s loss to the Houston Rockets in the absence of Anthony Davis.

With Davis probable, but still injured, for tonight’s game, Hachimura could be in line for another big night.

The two also met in the teams’ first matchup this season. The Lakers won this contest 100-95 in what was each team’s second game of the year. Hachimura had seven points for the Lakers, while Watanabe had three for the Suns in this game.


Watanabe and Hachimura have very different backgrounds on how they got to the NBA. Hachimura was a big-time prospect coming out of Gonzaga and was selected No. 9 overall by the Wizards in 2019. Watanabe went undrafted in 2018 after going to college at George Washington. 

The 25-year-old Hachimura has seen a lot of playing time in the NBA compared to Watanabe. The 29-year-old Watanabe had to earn his spot in the league after first signing a two-way deal with the Grizzlies. Watanabe’s best years started with the Toronto Raptors from 2020-22, but he really broke out last season with the Nets.

Comparing their careers, Hachimura has played in 214 career regular season games vs. 187 games for Watanabe. Hachimura has gotten a lot more playing time, averaging 12.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game. Watanabe has averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.

Both have appeared in the playoffs twice during their NBA careers with Hachimura averaging 12.8 points in those games and Watanabe averaging 1.4.

Team Japan History

This summer, Watanabe led Team Japan to win a non-automatic qualifying bid for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the FIBA World Cup. Overall, Watanabe averaged 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds across Japan’s five World Cup games. Hachimura elected not to play in this year’s FIBA tournament.

However, the two did team up for Team Japan in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics, showing off that they are the faces of Japanese basketball.

In 2019, Hachimura averaged 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals, while Watanabe averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.

The two led the country in scoring once again in their home Olympics. Hachimura averaged 22.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists, and Watanabe averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists. This solidified their statuses of being two players that all of Japan looks up to.

Now, with the two playing very similar roles on their teams, tonight could be a very intense head-to-head battle between the two Japanese stars.

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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