Kevin Durant, Yuta Watanabe reunite on Suns with great chemistry from Nets

Oct 6, 2023, 3:43 PM

Kevin Durant and Yuta Watanabe as Brooklyn Nets...

Kevin Durant and Yuta Watanabe are teammates again in Phoenix and the two developed a great feel for playing off each other in Brooklyn. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — If you’ve watched basketball long enough, you know it when you see it.

Great chemistry between two teammates sticks out in the best ways. When it comes to who the pair is, it’s always random. Could be two All-Stars. Or it could be two guys in different spots on the depth chart.

It was more of the latter in Brooklyn when Kevin Durant and Yuta Watanabe were Nets teammates for a half-season. They now reunite in Phoenix and Suns fans will soon get the memo on how those two seamlessly play off each other.

Over the first half of last season before Durant was traded, Watanabe played a crucial role as a floor spacer on a team with two major focal points offensively in Durant and Kyrie Irving. Watanabe, who was on his third team in five years and still trying to stick somewhere, shined.

Prior to a Durant injury in early January that would keep him out for the rest of his Brooklyn tenure, Watanabe across 27 games in 18.3 minutes a night averaged 7.3 points and 2.8 rebounds a game while shooting 55.8% from the field, with a 52.7% knockdown rate on 3s that is as scorching as the surface of the sun.

But as much as Watanabe gets labeled a “shooter,” one he very much has earned, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear Durant list off some of Watanabe’s other attributes before the shot.

“Such a bright basketball player that (it) just feels like he’s always in the right spot,” Durant said Friday. “Plays extremely hard on the defensive side of the ball as well. And then on top of that, his jump shot is getting better and better each year. We hope for big things for him this season and I love that everybody has been enjoying the way that he’s been playing in practice so far.”

When Durant heard the Suns were targeting Watanabe in free agency this summer, he reached out right away. Based on the way Watanabe spoke about Durant on Monday, that probably sealed the deal right then and there if it wasn’t done already.

“Definitely one of the reasons I signed with Phoenix is him,” Watanabe said of Durant. “I really enjoyed playing with him. He’s a great teammate, great guy, great leader. After he got traded, I was actually really sad, but I’m glad I have another opportunity to play with him. And we have good chemistry. We played really well together last year in Brooklyn. I hope we can keep playing well together in Phoenix.”

When Durant described Watanabe as a quiet guy who works extremely hard and loves basketball, it was the Spider-Man pointing meme coming to life and doesn’t make it all that difficult to see why the two have clicked.

“I like being around Yuta. I love his journey. … I enjoyed seeing his growth in his routine every single day when we were in Brooklyn so I wanted to continue that here in Phoenix,” Durant said.

It simply must be a fantastic feeling for an offensive force like Durant to go through early workouts and notice a smart shooter like Watanabe emerging. With how much defensive attention Durant has received since he entered the league in 2007 (!), he not only knows what’s coming from defenses but how to manipulate it.

All he needs is his teammates to understand where to go and be ready to shoot. Watanabe checks both boxes definitively.

Does that type of chemistry just pick up right where it left off?

“Yeah,” Durant confirmed. “You got guys that know how to play, know where to be in the offense. They’re focused in practice so they know where their spots are and Yuta is one of those guys. He’s just going to do this job. And when you do your job, you can mesh with everybody.”

Speaking of that!

When head coach Frank Vogel was asked if he had noticed that chemistry, I’m sure you’re going to be absolutely shocked by who else he saw Watanabe meshing with.

“You definitely see it out there,” Vogel said Thursday. “He’s got chemistry with Book as well. Book knows to find him. Every time he’s got the ball, he’s got an antenna up for where Yuta is. So if there’s any kind of over-help, we’re looking for him.”

To that point on Devin Booker, it is now well documented and established that Booker knows where to find shooters, like Durant. The numbers on the efficiency shooters have when they get 3-point looks from Booker as opposed to others are jaw-dropping.

Watanabe’s role on the Suns this season is tough to pencil in. Shooting at that level at his size (6-foot-9) is rare. And like Durant emphasized, Watanabe plays his freaking tail off. But fellow forwards/wings like Keita Bates-Diop, Nassir Little and Josh Okogie will surely command quite a bit of playing time.

As Durant said, however, Watanabe just knows how to play. Guys like that find a way into the rotation. Expect Watanabe to do just that.

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