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Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard spoke glowingly of Rui Hachimura’s rookie NBA season Wednesday, saying the 22-year-old Japanese exceeded expectations.

“We saw growth all season from Rui,” Sheppard said during an online news conference. “Unfortunately, his season was interrupted with an injury (but) when he came he didn’t miss a step. Actually, he jumped back in and was playing very well.” The first Japanese drafted who would go on to play in the NBA, Hachimura averaged 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 48 games.

He finished among the rookie leaders in rebounds per game and scoring despite having his season interrupted while recovering for about a month-and-a-half from a kick to the groin suffered on Dec. 16, 2019.

The Wizards finished the season with a 25-47 record, well out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, after winning just one of their eight seeding games in the NBA bubble in Orlando.

“Down in the bubble he was our first option on lots of nights, definitely got lots of touches,” Sheppard said. “But our goal for Rui down there was let’s extend him out to the three-point line and make sure he’s taking those shots.” “You saw, especially in transition, we’d definitely want him to hit that trail three from the top, we try to get him to pull from a lot of different areas and he’s a lot more comfortable.” “I think Rui’s on the right track, the trajectory we have for him, he is hitting his marks and we’re very pleased.” Sheppard’s comments echoed those made by Wizards coach Scott Brooks a day earlier.

The former NBA point guard and longtime head coach labelled the Japanese forward’s first season “terrific,” explaining he saw growth throughout, but particularly when the team landed in the bubble.

“I saw the game slow down a little bit for him,” Brooks said.

“I saw a little bit more confident player. I saw a willingness to take chances on the offensive end, which I like, because I think going forward he is going to have to be a player who can score in different spots on the floor.” Brooks said Hachimura’s ability to take advantage of offensive mismatches, his decent three-point stroke and his mid-range shot came a long way, but that he needs to focus next on reading and reacting on the offensive end.

“We have a lot of guys who can handle the ball and make good decisions, and a guy like him with size and good hands who can finish around the rim, he is going to have to learn how to pick his spots and to cut into the offense and to get open opportunities.” Sheppard said Hachimura and the Wizards’ other young players learned a lot from the coronavirus-disrupted season and it will help them grow.

“He’s got a lot of room for improvement, but every one of our players does, and we couldn’t be more pleased. I can’t say enough about the person,” Sheppard said.

“This year in particular really felt like we had damn near three seasons worth of time. All these young players this year got better in their own way, they’re all evaluated and next year we’ll see the benefits of all that.”

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