Rui Hachimura may not see the court again in his coronavirus-interrupted rookie season, but the play of Japan’s great basketball hope has already proven to his most well-credentialed teammate that his future is bright.
“I love Rui. His ceiling is so high,” Wizards star shooting guard Bradley Beal said on Thursday’s episode of ESPN’s “The Lowe Post” podcast.
When Hachimura was selected ninth by the Washington Wizards in the 2019 draft, television pundit and 2004 NBA champion Chauncey Billups likened his game to that of reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, causing many to scoff.
Beal said he initially joined the chorus of doubters, but after seeing him in person and then playing with him, Hachimura had the two-time All-Star smiling for different reasons.
“It was funny because when everyone was making the Kawhi comparisons on draft night, people laughed, I laughed, because Kawhi is a damn superstar,” said Beal.
“(But) when we got him, when I saw him in the summer he was dribbling, putting the ball on the floor, bringing the ball up the floor, palming it with one hand, so I could see why they were making comparisons to Kawhi.”
As a two-time NBA champion, two-time finals MVP and twice voted the NBA’s best defensive player, Leonard is now in the stratosphere with Hachimura still looking up at the sky, but a comparison between the two players’ rookie seasons is instructive.
Hachimura averaged 4 more points per 36 minutes, 0.4 fewer rebounds and 0.5 more assists, and had comparable shooting stats to Leonard in his rookie year.
The Japanese player’s defensive stats are a little behind Leonard’s, but that is hardly surprising. Defense has always been the now-Los Angeles Clippers star’s calling card, while that area was a major concern about Hachimura on his departure from Gonzaga University.
The major caveat to those comparisons is that Leonard, as a rookie, played a significant role on a 2011-2012 San Antonio Spurs team that went 50-16 and reached the Western Conference finals.
Hachimura’s Wizards won just 24 of 64 games, a season Beal described as “real ugly” at times.
“We were top five in offense, our problem is that we can’t guard a grandma,” he said.
“Our biggest thing was how do we get better on (the defensive) end…I think it was just an experience thing at the end of the day.”
Beal averaged a career-best 30.5 points per game this season, with long streaks of stellar play that kept his team competitive.
But Hachimura played his part, too, and Beal believes he has a lot more to give.
“He is not really a four, we can really make him into a three, we can make him into a playmaker. He can post smaller guys, he can guard bigger guys. He is very versatile in a lot of ways.”
“I just don’t know who he is really, really comparable to because his ceiling is so high.”