Rui Hachimura joined the Wizards after being selected 9th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Japanese prospect from Gonzaga brings an array of raw skills and attributes to an organization who is likely willing to be patient with his development.
Hachimura, 21, did not start playing organized basketball until he was 14. He adapted well to the college game, and showed steady improvement each season. Because of this, it is reasonable to hope that he’s not yet reached his peak. Hachimura is a bonafide superstar in Japan, and he has a legitimate chance to be the greatest Japanese basketball player of all time. The attention from Japanese media is already very noticeable to those following the Wizards closely.
In his last season at Gonzaga, Hachimura averaged 19.7 PPG with an effective field goal percentage of 60%, which ranked 3rd out of all lottery picks (behind Zion Williamson and Darius Garland). Most of his scoring was either from the midrange or in transition, both of which we saw in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup. He has all the physical tools you would want in a modern NBA forward. He stands 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan, and seemingly has a good motor, as evidenced by his play in Gonzaga’s rim running, coast-to-coast, style of play the last three seasons.
The major pre-draft criticism of Hachimura was whether or not his play would translate well to the NBA. Midrange shooting does not fit into many teams’ visions of modern NBA offense. In Summer League and FIBA World Cup, we saw Hachimura settle for midrange jumpers fairly often. It’ll be up to Scott Brooks to decide whether or not that fits into this version of the Wizards’ offense. An optimist would look at his midrange efficiency and willingness to shoot off the dribble as a sign that he may have potential as a three point shooter. In his last season at Gonzaga, Hachimura shot 41.7% from three point range, albeit only on 36 attempts. If he is confident enough to shoot 1-2 three pointers per game, this will help open up the floor for Bradley Beal. This is something Thomas Bryant did well last season.
He was also useful in the pick and roll at Gonzaga, which has been a staple of the Washington offense for many years now. I expect to see him and Bryant utilized heavily in the pick and roll this season.
His defensive potential is also an unknown. He has the physical tools to be a solid NBA defender, but only showed defensive prowess in flashes in college. The Wizards’ biggest areas for improvement this season will be defense and rebounding, and it will likely take a while before Hachimura can help them there.
With the beginning of the Tommy Sheppard era in D.C., fans are finally seeing a definitive organizational mentality shift. The last few seasons, the clear goal was always to make a run in the playoffs. This always came at the expense of giving playing time or opportunities to younger players. Trading Kelly Oubre for a half season rental of Trevor Ariza was the epitome of this mindset.
This season is different. Every preseason sound bite from Sheppard and Brooks points to the young guys getting plenty of minutes and opportunities this season. Fans have heard the word “patience” thrown around more often than ever before (which is a welcome change for anyone who is interested in the long-term trajectory of the franchise). This bodes well for Hachimura. He will likely be an opening night starter. Barring injury, he could rack up as many minutes as any Wizard not named Bradley Beal. Wizards fans should expect to see high energy play, versatile scoring, and (hopefully) defensive improvement from Hachimura this season. The team will likely be aiming to make another playoff push with Beal and Wall in 2020-21, and Hachimura is expected to be an important piece of that.
Best Case Scenario
Hachimura stays healthy, plays a lot of minutes, and develops a good chemistry with the Wizards’ most important foundational pieces (namely Beal, Bryant, and Brown Jr.). If he’s able to capitalize on his opportunities this season, he should earn himself a place on the All-Rookie team.