The 3 best Japanese NBA players who could take the next step to the league

May 31, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) reacts after a first half play against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs First Round at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA’s fanbase expands to a global audience, Latin America and Europe are no longer “developing” markets for the league. Although basketball does not have the fanbase of baseball in japan, it is a sport that is gaining in popularity. There are a lot of diehard Japanese NBA fans. Basketball has been a theme in manga books and video games, and audiences are eager to see more Japanese names on the back of NBA jerseys.

The players who paved the way

It is well known that Japanese baseball players are regularly recruited by MLB teams, but asian island nation basketball players are not frequent targets of NBA scouts. However, it should be remembered that the first Japanese player drafted was Yasutaka Okayama. The Golden State Warriors selected Okayama in 1981, but he never played in a regular season game.

The next samurai to get a call from an NBA team was Yuta Tabuse – the point guard got a chance with the Phoenix Suns in 2004, where he played four official games before being waived. It might be a coincidence, but another Yuta stepped into the big leagues after the Memphis Grizzlies signed Yuta Watanabe in 2018. The small forward is currently on the Toronto Raptors’ roster.

Rui Hachimura, born to a Japanese mother and a Beninese father has proven to be an exceptional talent for Japan. He was selected 9th overall by the Washington Wizards in 2019 after forfeiting his final year of college eligibility with Gonzaga. In December 2019, Hachimura and the Wizards took on Yuta Watanabe and Memphis Grizzlies. It was the first-ever meeting of two Japanese-born players in NBA history.

Emerging talents in the land of the rising sun

Several players cut their teeth in the NBA G-league and show potential to join an NBA team in the years to come. It’s time to get to know some of these talented players.

Yudai Baba

The passion for basketball is in the Baba family. Yudai’s father played for the national team in the 70s. Theson also took over the mantle of the national team as the current starting shooting guard for the Japan national team.

Baba’s performance at the University of Tsukuba, then as a professional with Alvark Tokyo, brought him to the attention of Dallas Mavericks scouts. He signed there in 2019. In standard NBA practice, Yudai was traded to the Texas Legends, a team affiliated with the Mavericks, competing in the G League.

Throughout 41 games Baba showed his potential but in 2020 he got a better offer from Melbourne United and joined the Australian NBL. After a season in Australia, he made his return to the Texas Legends in 2021. For the upcoming 2022-23 season, Yudai is heading down again and joining Melbourne United, hoping to repeat the NBL Grand Final as of 2020. Baba is one of the strongest contenders to find a future spot on an NBA roster.

Yuki Togashi

Togashi learned his basketball skills in the United States playing for the Mustangs, a high school team that represented Montrose Christian School in the state of Maryland. Yuki did not move to an NCAA college and returned to Japan in 2013.

After a season with the Akita Northern Happinets, Togashi flew across the Pacific and joined the Dallas Mavericks in 2014. He was only there for a short summer stint after transitioning to the Texas Legends.

Unfortunately, injuries took Yuki off the roster. After the season, he traveled to Italy for a stint, but ultimately decided to return to Japan. Upon his return, he signed with the Chiba Jets, where he currently plays. Winning the 2019 MVP award in the B.Leagues signals that Togashi is still a valuable player who can potentially find a future spot as a rotational player on an NBA team.

Avi Schäfer

Schafer had the opportunity to experience the best of both worlds as the child of an intermarriage. Avi’s father is American and his mother is Japanese. Born in Osaka, the power forward has remained loyal to his native country and is a member of the Japan national basketball team. Schafer studied at Georgia Tech and played for the Yellow Jackets. Joining Alvark Tokyo in 2018, Avi started his professional basketball career.

The Mikawa SeaHorses are his current team, and Schafer will remain at Mikawa after a contract extension for another season. In 2022, Schafer was named to the B.League All-Star List for the second year in a role. Avi’s consistent production on the court as a scorer and rebounder indicates he can be a reliable sixth man on an NBA team.

Unlike the other players on our list, the power forward has yet to submit an NBA draft nomination.