The Five Best NBA Basketball Players
Japanese men’s basketball traditionally does not have many players who make the NBA. In NBA history, there have only been five players to make the league and one of them has only played four NBA games.
Japan’s Top Five NBA Players
5. Yuta Tabuse (2004) and 4. JR Henderson (now known as JR Sakuragi) (1998-99)
Yuta Tabuse only played four games with the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 NBA season. He averaged 1.8 points and averaged 1.0 rebounds per game. Until recently, Tabuse was the only Japanese born and raised player to play in the NBA at the time. He was born in Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture. He played high school in Noshiro, Akita in Noshiro Technical. Tabuse was undrafted in the 2002 NBA draft.
Point guard’s highlight was scoring seven points and grabbing a rebound for the Suns in the 2004 NBA season. In this game, the Suns easily beat the Atlanta Hawks. The next two players on this list who have Japanese heritage grew up in the United States
JR Henderson (now known as JR Sakuragi) played one season in the NBA from 1998 to 1999. He played in Canada with the Vancouver Grizzlies (now known as the Memphis Grizzlies). During that season, he averaged 3.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in 30 games. A few years later, he moved to Japan. According to Jerry Crowe of Los Angeles Time, Henderson became a naturalized Japanese citizen some time after playing in the NBA. He also played for the Japanese national basketball team.
His position was small forward and he was drafted 56th by the Grizzlies in the 1998 NBA draft. From 2007 to 2020, he also played for the Japanese team, the Mikawa SeaHorses.
3. Nick Fazekas (2007-08)
Nick Fazekas was a forward and center who played one season in the NBA. Like the previous two guys mentioned in the article, Fazekas only played one season in the NBA. During the 2007-08 NBA season, he averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He played for the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2007-08 NBA season. Like Sakuragi, Fazekas became a naturalized Japanese citizen. According to Joel Rush of ForbesHere’s what Fazekas said about playing in Japan versus playing in Europe:
“The grass was really greener on the other side of Asia than it was in Europe.”
It showed how much he enjoyed his time in Asia and especially in Japan. Like Sakuragi, he also played for the Japanese men’s national team even though they grew up in the United States. Fazekas was drafted 34th in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks.
2. Yuta Watanabe (2018-present)
The first current Japanese NBA player on the roster. Yuta Watanabe is also the first player on this list to play more than one season in the NBA. Watanabe was born in Yokohama, Japan. His high schools included Jinsei Gakuen in Zentsūji, Japan. His other high school was St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Connecticut.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse praised Watanabe and ended up saying that according to Aaron Rose of All raptors.
“As soon as someone barely let him into the post he had already made his cut. It was boom, and he was right there on the edge. I kind of wish he could pass on some of that knowledge to other guys.
He is currently a small forward/power forward with the Toronto Raptors. He played for the Memphis Grizzlies from 2018 to 2020. During that time, he also played for the Memphis Hustle which is an NBA G-League team. His best performance came in the 2020-21 NBA season against the Orlando Magic. It was April 16, 2021, where he had 21 points, six rebounds and two assists. Watanabe can be an inspiration to many Japanese players. He went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, but found a way to contribute to the NBA.
In the 2021-22 NBA season, he is currently averaging 6.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game as of the early afternoon of Dec. 17. He also got his first-ever career double-double on December 13. Watanabe had 12 points and 11 rebounds along with two assists against the Sacramento Kings. The Raptors would win this game 124-101.
1. Rui Hachimura (2019-present)
Rui Hachimura is a power forward for the Washington Wizards. He was born in Toyama prefecture in Japan. Hachimura was impressive during his NBA rookie season. He averaged 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. As a result, Hachimura earned the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2020.
Hachimura averaged 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. This is what Wes Unfeld Jr. said about Hachimura according to Mike Deprisco of NBC Sports.
“Rui is another talented young man who has honestly given [Denver] suitable this season. So I think it’s kind of a blessing to be able to coach him instead of playing against him.
Hachimura performed really well as a rookie. That included 27 points and seven rebounds in a 113-119 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 5, 2019. He was unfortunately injured and didn’t play in any games in the 2021-22 NBA season. He was drafted ninth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Wizards.
Overview of the top five Japanese players in NBA history
There were only five Japanese players to have played in the NBA. Two of them grew up in America and became Japanese as adults. There has been a history of NBA players coming from outside the United States like Canada, Spain and also Great Britain. However, the number of Japanese NBA players is currently in its golden generation. They hosted the Summer Olympics this year in Tokyo, Japan.
Japan’s men’s national team didn’t make it past the group stage, but the women’s national team won a historic silver medal on home soil. Additionally, current Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey coached in Japan. He coached Sekisui Chemical from 1989 to 1992 and Isuzu Motors Lynx from 1992 to 1994. He was also part of the Japanese coaching staff at that time.
Other NBA players in Asia and the future of NBA basketball in Japan
Two NBA players born and raised in Japan are currently plying their trades in the NBA. In fact, two of the three current NBA players who represent their Asian country are from Japan. The other player representing the Philippines is Utah Jazz point guard/shooter, Jordan Clarkson. However, the team, nicknamed Gilas Pilipinas, can only select one naturalized player who was not raised in the Philippines. They tend to play forward/center Andray Blatchewho played in the NBA from 2005 to 2014. Blatche, for example, played for the Philippines in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Japan also has a professional men’s basketball league called the B1 League. One of the league’s teams, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, is also getting a new arena in Okinawa, Japan. This new arena will also host the FIBA World Cup 2023, a tournament that will also be hosted by the Philippines and Jakarta, Indonesia. There is a bright future for men’s and women’s basketball in Japan. They could be a force in Asian basketball for years to come (note that this does not include Australia and New Zealand, who play in Asia-related competitions but are considered basketball teams -ball from Oceania).
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