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NBA Forwards Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe Have Coped with Injuries This Season

Hachimura and Watanabe have missed a combined 29 NBA games in the first half of the 2023-24 season for the Lakers and Suns, respectively.

In the first half of the 2023-24 NBA season, Rui Hachimura and Japanese compatriot Yuta Watanabe had uneven stretches but also made solid contributions for the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, respectively.

Both players also missed a significant number of games.

Through Tuesday, January 16, Hachimura has appeared in 27 of the Lakers' 41 games. He's been sidelined due to a concussion, wrist and calf injuries and a broken nose in November 2023 that required surgery (he wore a protective face mask upon his return to action).

Watanabe has played in 25 of the Suns' 40 games.

Phoenix Suns forward Yuta Watanabe shoots the ball during the fourth quarter against the host Los Angeles Clippers at Arena on January 8. (Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Teams' Records in the 2023-24 NBA Season

Los Angeles, which reached the Western Conference finals in the 2022-23 season after acquiring Hachimura in a trade with the Washington Wizards, is currently in 10th place in the Western Conference with a 20-21 record.

Phoenix (22-18, eighth in the West) has one more game to play before it completes 50% of its schedule.

The NBA season is 82 games. So, for better or for worse (or perhaps expectations for more of the same) we're at a sensible point where players' and teams' performances can be projected for the full season.

The Lakers' Rui Hachimura, seen in action against New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III in an NBA In Season Tournament semifinal on December 7, 2023, in Las Vegas, has scored 20 or more points four times this season. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SPORTS)

A Quick Look at Hachimura's Statistics

How has Hachimura played?

Making five starts in his 27 appearances to date, the Toyama native is averaging 23.1 minutes, 11.8 points (the team's fifth-leading scorer), 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks.

He's shooting 49% from the floor and 37% from 3-point range.

At times, Hachimura has been an offensive spark for the Lakers, giving them an additional boost to supplement the impact of primary scorers Anthony Davis and LeBron James. For example, in back-to-back wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies on November 12 and 14, the Gonzaga University alum poured in 19 and 23 points, going 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the latter contest.

From December 21-28, Hachimura reached double figures in points in four straight games, including a 21-point effort in a 129-120 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second game of that stretch.

Rui Hachimura is averaging 11.8 points per game this season. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Capitalizing on Hachimura's Athleticism

On December 28, Hachimura made his fourth start of the season. Lakers coach Darvin Ham explained after the club's 133-112 triumph over the visiting Charlotte Hornets why he penciled Hachimura's name into the starting lineup.

"We knew they were going to be playing fast, with a lot of force," Ham said of Charlotte, according to the Los Angeles Times. "They're athletic, [and] they run fast and they jump high so that was the mindset behind putting a bigger body out there with those other four [starters], and maintaining our size and athleticism and our speed. And that's what he provided tonight."

Hachimura finished with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and four rebounds in 28 minutes.

He missed five straight games after sustaining a calf injury in a New Year's Eve game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Since then, he's played in the team's past two games, scoring 17 and 12 points against the Utah Jazz (loss) and the Thunder (win).

To his credit, Hachimura's energy on defense has paid off. He's averaging a career-high 1.5 steals per 48 minutes.

The Suns' Yuta Watanabe defends as Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie shoots the ball on December 13 in Phoenix. (Mark J Rebilas/USA TODAY SPORTS)

An Update on Watanabe

The sixth-year pro has not started a game yet this season. He's averaging 14.6 minutes, 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks while shooting 33.7% from the field and 31.5% on 3s. His shooting numbers are below his career averages of 42.6% and 33.7%.

A bruised left quadriceps forced Watanabe out of the rotation in mid-November. He also sustained a finger injury in late December, and he's had sporadic playing time over the past two months.

Before the quadriceps injury, Watanabe averaged 18.6 minutes in the Suns' first 12 games of the season. He scored a season-high 11 against the Spurs on October 31.

The veteran small forward hasn't played in 10 of Phoenix's last 15 games, and has only appeared in consecutive games once in that span.

In December, Suns head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that the team was experimenting with different playing combinations. Watanabe's playing time, or lack thereof, has been impacted by the coach's decision.

"He's a great shooter," Vogel was quoted as saying by ClutchPoints on December 23.

"…We're looking at some other guys ahead of him in the rotation, but I got a lot of confidence in him when we throw him in there."

Watanabe missed the team's most recent game, a 119-117 home win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, with an illness.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.


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