The Rookie’s Immediate Impact On and Off the Court in D.C.
When the Washington Wizards selected Rui Hachimura with the 9th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, a shift in DC basketball culture was immediately apparent. The Wizards’ pick was the first ever Japanese-born player to be selected in the first round. He brought with him an entire country of fans, and over 40 Japanese media members to swarm him upon arrival in Washington.
Changing the Wizards’ culture was heavily emphasized this offseason. With new General Manager Tommy Sheppard taking the wheel from Ernie Grunfeld, the change has been immediate. When given the chance to form a roster, Sheppard had the choice to try to retool with a group of veterans from last season, or sell Bradley Beal on the development of young guys and the future return of John Wall.
The second option ended up being Sheppard’s preferred route. With Bradley Beal signed on until at least 2021-22, this season is about developing young talent and giving them as many minutes as possible, until Wall returns healthy from a torn Achilles that he suffered last season.
Pre-draft buzz was relatively low on Hachimura, despite winning the Julius Erving Award last season, given to college basketball’s top small forward. The likes of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver and Darius Garland all received significantly more attention, dropping him to No. 9 overall. You can’t usually count on the No. 9 overall pick to be a transcendent, franchise-changing type of talent. In most drafts, those types of players are only found in the first five picks. In weaker draft classes, maybe only a couple players ever become stars.
So when Hachimura was taken with the No 9. pick, the expectation was not for him to perform immediately. Many preferred the potential of Duke’s Cam Reddish, and much of D.C. media was skeptical of the pick. But perception changed after a strong end to Summer League and an even more impressive showing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for host country, Japan.
With the opportunity to start immediately as a rookie, Hachimura has exceeded those expectations he was given on draft night. So far, he appears to be an offensive star in the making. Strong performances in each of his first four games thrust him into early Rookie of the Year talks, with the likes of RJ Barrett, Kendrick Nunn and Ja Morant. With an already lethal mid-range jumper, Rui has shown the ability to out-muscle smaller defenders in the paint when playing the 3 spot, both on the boards and while handling the ball. He also has been impressive playing the 4 spot, where he starts. He’s quicker than most power forwards he plays against.
Hachimura has averaged 14.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game so far this season, and has shown to be a viable offensive threat as a rookie. While strong on offense, Rui has struggled to impact the game defensively like he was able to in Summer League. This is one area of the game that he can improve greatly, and with his athleticism and still being relatively new to the game, I believe he will. So far he has averaged just 0.2 blocks and 0.5 steals per game, and early foul trouble vs Detroit limited him to 12 points in 16 minutes. After a dominant first quarter with 10 points, he was forced to sit due to foul trouble. He was only able to play 16 minutes in a matchup with Markieff Morris, a former Wizard who doesn’t always show up defensively every night.
That should all come in time. Until then, Wizards fans should be encouraged by Rui. He carries himself with such a cool demeanor, both on and off the court. On the court, you won’t see much emotion out of him – he’s completely in the zone. This is something else that is Kawhi-esque. Don’t worry, I’ll stop comparing him to Kawhi, because he isn’t there yet by any means. But, he has shown a lot to make you believe the sky is the limit for this guy. In time, he could reach that next level as a player on both sides of the ball. For now, he is already great offensively.
Hachimura started his career with a 14-point, 10 rebound double-double in a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks and Kristaps Porzingis, and followed that with 19 point, 16 point, and 23 point performances in his next three outings. His mid-range shooting ability was already a known strength. But he has also shown the ability to hit step-back jumpers in the post, attack the rim with force, and clean up the offensive glass. He even went 3-for-3 from three-point range against the Rockets, something that he has been working on since entering the league.
Hachimura is seemingly loved by all of his teammates in Washington, and for good reason. His play has been nothing short of stellar for a rookie, and his easy demeanor makes him easy to get along with.
He hasn’t only impressed in games. Off the court, he has been just as impressive. He is the second most marketable rookie in the NBA according to Forbes.com, after signing global deals with Jordan Brand and NBA 2K, to name a couple. According to Forbes, he could make upward of $10 Million in off-court earnings this season, behind only No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. He is always seen rocking Jordans, and looks the part of a future superstar in the fashion game.
Hachimura is being thrust into stardom quicker than many would expect, and is being labeled as the next big thing in his home country of Japan. If he can keep up his play on offense and improve defensively, superstar status could eventually be reached, and Rui could be labeled the next big thing in D.C. as well. Until then, we can all sit back, and enjoy watching Hachiumra develop with ample minutes this season.