Japan NBA Players 2024: The 5 Best Players of All Time

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You may already know some of the prominent Japanese NBA players, like Rui Hachimura who plays for the Washington Wizards, Yuta Watanabe formerly with the Raptors, and Yuta Watanabe’s latest move to the Phoenix Suns.

Their contributions to their respective teams have made an impact and put Japan on the map as a source of talented international basketball players.

The 5 Best Japan NBA Players of All Time

Rui Hachimura

Rui Hachimura was the first Japanese-born player to be drafted in the NBA. He was selected by the Washington Wizards ninth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. Hachimura quickly established himself as a promising talent in the league, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. While he’s yet to make an All-Star appearance, his dynamic play and potential make him a player to watch in the coming years.

Yuta Watanabe

Yuta Watanabe is another talented Japanese player who has made a name for himself in the NBA. Watanabe initially signed with the Toronto Raptors before finding a home with the Brooklyn Nets. His hard work and determination have earned him a solid role with the team, contributing on both ends of the floor. With continued development and growth, Watanabe is expected to have a bright future in the league.

Yuta Tabuse

Yuta Tabuse made history as the first Japanese-born player in an NBA game. Although his tenure in the league was brief, Tabuse’s time with the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-2005 season remains an essential milestone for Japanese basketball. Tabuse averaged 1.8 points and 1.0 rebounds per game in his four appearances.

Nick Fazekas

Born in Denver, Colorado, Nick Fazekas had dual citizenship with the United States and Japan. A skilled power forward, Fazekas played for several NBA teams, including the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Vancouver Grizzlies. Though his NBA career was short-lived, he went on to have a successful career overseas, including a stint with the Japanese national team.

J.R. Henderson

J.R. Henderson, now J.R. Sakuragi, played for the Golden State Warriors during the 1998-1999 NBA season. While his time in the NBA wasn’t as long as others on this list, Henderson has enjoyed a successful and lengthy career in Japan. His experience and skill helped to pave the way for future Japanese players to enter the NBA.

Position and Performance

Power Forward

Regarding power forwards from Japan, Rui Hachimura is a standout player. Hachimura, a 6-foot-8 player, has made a name for himself in the NBA with the Washington Wizards. After an impressive college career at Gonzaga University, Rui was selected ninth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. As a rookie, he made it to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team and has continued to show improvement in the league.

Another notable power forward is Yuta Watanabe. Watanabe, also measuring 6-foot-8, currently plays for the Toronto Raptors. Although he went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, he found his way into the league and previously played for the Memphis Grizzlies before signing with the Raptors as a two-way player.

Basketball Statistics

Now, look at some vital basketball statistics for these Japanese NBA players.

Rui Hachimura:

  • PPG (Points per game): 13.8 (2021-2022 season)
  • RPG (Rebounds per game): 5.7 (2021-2022 season)
  • APG (Assists per game): 1.6 (2021-2022 season)
  • BPG (Blocks per game): 0.4 (2021-2022 season)
  • Career Highs:
    • Points: 30 (March 18, 2021)
    • Rebounds: 12 (multiple times)
    • Assists: 7 (March 25, 2021)

Yuta Watanabe:

  • PPG (Points per game): 4.1 (2021-2022 season)
  • RPG (Rebounds per game): 3.1 (2021-2022 season)
  • APG (Assists per game): 0.8 (2021-2022 season)
  • BPG (Blocks per game): 0.6 (2021-2022 season)
  • Career Highs:
    • Points: 14 (February 2, 2021)
    • Rebounds: 11 (April 20, 2021)
    • Assists: 3 (multiple times)

There you have it, a brief look at the position and performance of Japan NBA players like Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe. Their impact on the league showcases the potential for even more talented players from Japan to enter the NBA in the future.

Professional Journey

I think, you might be curious about the journey of Japan NBA players. In recent years, Japanese basketball talent has risen in the NBA, with players like Rui Hachimura making a name for themselves. This section will dive into the various stages of their professional journey, including the NBA Draft, G-League, and opportunities as Free Agents.

NBA Draft

The NBA Draft has been an exciting milestone for talented Japanese basketball players. It was pivotal when Rui Hachimura became the first-born Japanese player to be drafted into the NBA in 2019. Selected ninth by the Washington Wizards, he quickly made his presence felt, paving the way for future Japanese athletes to showcase their skills.


The NBA G-League provides an excellent platform for international players, including Japanese athletes, to develop their skills and showcase their abilities to NBA teams. Here, players gain valuable game experience and have the chance to impress NBA scouts. Some Japanese players have taken advantage of the G-League as an opportunity to refine their game and make the leap to the NBA.

Free Agent

Free Agency is another route for Japanese NBA players to find their way onto an NBA roster. After proving themselves in international leagues or the G-League, these players may receive offers to join NBA teams as free agents.

Though the path may be more challenging than being drafted, it demonstrates the determination and commitment of these Japanese players working tirelessly to earn a spot in the highly competitive NBA landscape.

Popularity and Influence

Social Media Influence

The impact of Japan’s NBA players on social media is substantial, with platforms like Twitter playing a significant role in increasing their prominence. For instance, basketball fans used Twitter during the NBA Japan Games 2022 to follow the event closely, share pictures, and discuss their favorite players at the Saitama Super Arena.

NBA legends like Richard Hamilton, Tim Hardaway, Dikembe Mutombo, and Klay Thompson actively engage with fans, creating a genuine connection with their audience. As a result, these NBA players from Japan are building substantial fan bases both in their homeland and worldwide.

Impact in Japan

japan nba players

The emergence of Japanese players in the NBA has sparked renewed interest and excitement for the sport in Japan. The NBA Japan Games 2022 showcased the growing enthusiasm for basketball, drawing in massive crowds and generating plenty of buzz in the Japanese news.

This uptick in attention has led to an increase in talented athletes pursuing basketball careers, aiming to follow in the footsteps of their favorite NBA stars. Local leagues and summer camps across Japan are experiencing a surge in participation, undoubtedly influenced by the country’s NBA success.

Notably, Japanese NBA players are climbing the rankings and starting to break records, inspiring a new generation of athletes. As more Japanese stars compete in playoffs and receive prestigious awards, basketball in Japan will likely reach even greater heights.

My Personal Opinion

I find Japanese NBA players to be incredibly inspiring and talented individuals. Their journey to the league often involves overcoming cultural and language barriers, making their achievements even more remarkable. Their presence in the NBA showcases their skills and promotes basketball in Japan, fostering a love for the sport across borders. It’s truly exciting to witness their contributions to the game and their positive impact on aspiring players worldwide.


Is NBA popular in Japan?

Basketball is included in top sports in Japan but is less popular than football and baseball.

Who is the Japanese player in the NBA 2023?

Hachimura made his Lakers debut two days later, recording 12 points and six rebounds in a 113–104 win over the San Antonio Spurs. On July 6, 2023, Hachimura re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Fabian Kühar
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