Basketball | HOOP SCOOP

Wizards' Rui Hachimura off to successful start to NBA career

by Ed Odeven

Centuries before basketball was invented, William Shakespeare reflected on the subject of greatness. The Great Bard once summed it up this way: “Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

It’s already obvious that Rui Hachimura’s talent, athleticism, work ethic and never-wavering determination to improve every day are a winning combination.

The Washington Wizards rookie is on a path to stardom, and many astute hoop observers are saying he has the potential to be a great NBA player. The Wizards have 70 more regular-season games, but the first 12 have provided glimpses of his impressive talents. Scoring 14, 19, 16 and 23 points in his first four games, including a double-double in his NBA debut, was not unlike a movie trailer: There’s more entertainment to come. Sit down, relax and enjoy the show!

Game No. 4 was the Wizards’ home opener on Oct. 30 against the Houston Rockets, and represents his career-high point total. And after a scoreless outing against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 6, the Toyama native responded with a 21-point effort (10-for-13 shooting) against the Cleveland Cavaliers two days later, then dropped 21 on the Boston Celtics on Nov. 13.

“I love his game,” Marc Spears, The Undefeated’s senior NBA writer, said on the “Wizards Talk” podcast on Nov. 8. “I love his aggressiveness offensively. I think he’s a good rebounder, but could be a great rebounder.”

The 21-year-old became the first Japanese player to be chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft (No. 9 overall) in June. As a result, he’s a visible figure halfway around the world whose visibility is strengthened because he respects the public’s enormous appetite for morsels of news about him.

“He’s embraced the media,” Spears observed. “He’s embraced the Japanese media and wants to be a voice out there.”

While the injured-plagued Wizards are 4-8, Hachimura, who has started every game, is averaging 13.2 points (No. 6 among rookies), 5.7 rebounds (tied for second among rookies) and 1.8 assists. He’s shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. He had 15 points and seven rebounds in a 138-132 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

According to basketball-reference.com‘s advanced statistics through Sunday, his shooting numbers include 68.9 percent from super-close range (0 meters to 0.9 meters). He’s a clinical finisher, attacking the basket with excellent results. He’s also making 61.1 percent of his shots from 3.0 meters to 4.8 meters, a reminder of his potent midrange jumper.

This week, NBC Sports Washington’s Mike DePrisco penned an analysis of the current crop of rookies with this headline: “2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year tracker: How does Rui Hachimura compare to Ja Morant, other elite rookies?”

DePrisco makes the argument that Hachimura is one of the NBA’s top rookies.

“So far, Hachimura has looked really good,” DePrisco wrote before the Spurs game. “His 3-point stroke hasn’t come along yet, but he’s shooting 50 percent from the floor and currently ranks seventh among rookies in scoring.

“His pull-up jumper looks legit, he’s far more mobile than he was given credit for, and once Hachimura learns how to finish through contact and figure out his spots on the floor, he’s going to be dangerous screening for Bradley Beal.”

In ranking the top rookies, DePrisco puts Hachimura at No. 5. His top four: Morant (Memphis Grizzlies), Kendrick Nunn (Miami Heat), Eric Paschall (Golden State Warriors) and Miami’s Tyler Herro, all of whom are scoring in double figures, with Morant leading the way with 18.4 points and 6.0 assists. (Top overall pick Zion Williamson has yet to play for the New Orleans Pelicans.)

Hachimura, who has drawn comparisons to Jabari Parker, Terry Cummings, Antawn Jamison and Pascal Siakam, among others, according to NBA pundits Hoop Scoop has contacted in recent days, recognizes that getting to the free-throw line on a consistent basis is something he needs to do more of. He’s only attempted 18 free throws, but made 5 of 6 against the Spurs. Being aggressive and scoring inside, even when contact is made by an opponent, is a priority.

“Yeah, you have to,” Hachimura said, referring to completing scoring chances at the rim, according to The Washington Times. “Even if I get fouled, you have to go up strong.”

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks knows the midrange jumper is one of Hachimura’s chief strengths on offense. And expanding his comfort range on offense is a work in progress.

Yes, the team is encouraging him to step beyond the 3-point arc and take a few more shots (he’s made 4 of 20). But abandoning one of his best skills is not in the Washington playbook.

“You can’t just say, ‘Jack up some 3s because it scores one more point,’ ” Brooks was quoted as saying by The Washington Times. “He’s working on it, but his midrange game is good. I like where he is right now.”

In a post-practice interview session on Nov. 7, Brooks discussed how the coaching staff is searching for ways to maximize Hachimura’s talents on offense.

“I’m still figuring out what he does and how he does it and who he can do it against,” the coach admitted. “And you know certain (types) of players guard in certain ways. We have to have better counters to that. He has to put himself in those positions to suit the areas that we have him. And he has to get there quicker, you know, with more of a purpose.

“And that’s all part of growing and learning. And this is not only Rui. This is every rookie in the league. They are in the league because they are really, really good players.”

Indeed, Hachimura was the focal point on offense during his sensational junior season at Gonzaga University in 2018-19. That’s no longer the case.

Which means he needs to make adjustments, Brooks said.

“With all the good players that he has around him, you know he doesn’t get those types of looks as much,” Brooks told reporters. “And that’s an adjustment to make. And he’s going to make that adjustment. But I need to do a better job to help him get opportunities to put himself in a position to score.”

Asked to describe how he plays the game, Hachimura gave this revealing insight to The Washington Post earlier this month: “I play hard and compete. I’m very competitive and come out every game with good energy. I can do a lot of things on the court defensively and offensively.”

Consider this the right approach.

Or as NBA analyst Ross Kreines put it in an interview with Hoop Scoop: “He does a great job utilizing his length and athleticism on both ends of the floor. He has shown his ability to create off the dribble, play with his back to the basket at times and is active.”