• Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look at Japanese- Beninese forward Rui Hachimura, a young forward who is trying to solidify himself as a core member of the Wizards in his second year in the league.

    The Long Journey From Japan

    Born in Toyama Prefecture, Hachimura made a name for himself when he averaged a tournament-best 22.1 points per game for Japan at the FIBA U-17 World Championships in Dubai in 2014. When he was recruited by Gonzaga, Hachimura became the fifth Japanese-born player to play NCAA Division I men’s college basketball and in 2017 he became the first Japanese national to play in the NCAA Division I men’s tournament. His freshman season was rocky and he acknowledged he had second thoughts about his decision to come to the US, some 4,800 miles away from his hometown, but he wasn’t going to give up on his dream of making the NBA and becoming a role model.

    As a sophomore, he earned first-team All-WCC honors and was was named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award while as a junior he was selected as the 2019 WCC Player of the Year, leading Gonzaga in scoring (19.7 points per game) while also averaging 6.5 rebounds a contest on good percentages overall.

    The Wizards didn’t hesitate to draft him, making him the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 Draft and the first Japanese player ever to go into the lottery. His rookie season was cut short by a groin injury and the league-wide coronavirus pause, and Hachimura didn’t participate in the Orlando bubble in an attempt to show up fully healthy for the start of the new season.

    Strong Offensive Skills

    During his rookie season, Hachimura averaged 13.4 points (third on the team), 6.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals while he shot 47.8 percent from the field and 82.9 percent from the charity stripe over his 41 games, proving to be a consistent scoring option. The truth of the matter is that his offense is ahead of his defense and, even though he seems undersized, he uses his above average ball-handling skills to get to the rim and navigate through traffic, which sets up his wide range of scoring moves.

    With quick inside spins, an already developed floater game and an excellent mid-range game, he possesses an elite package offensively within fifteen feet of the basket. Look at him cutting to the basket as he recognizes the opening and finishes using his quickness and excellent footwork against a bigger Ed Davis, who fails to block his shot.

    Rui is a relentless presence and possesses the sneaky athleticism and the determination to chase second-chance opportunities, putting a lot of pressure on opponents who sleep on him while he does a great job recognizing mismatches, aggressively establishing position and finishing around the rim. Here is another play where the Japanese forward quickly takes position against a smaller Avery Bradley and finishes with the put-back shot, not surrendering on the possession after the help defense of Goran Dragic forces him to miss the layup.

    The arrival of Russell Westbrook in DC, as expected, has affected his usage, but Hachimura still ranks third on the Wizards in field goal attempts per game (10.3), while his efficiency from the field and from behind the arc is up with his game slowly maturing and with his teammates learning how to properly take advantage of his skills. Hachimura ranked second in the NBA in points per post-up possession at the end of January (1.15 point per possession) and first in turning those post-ups into free throws as the Wizards were happy to welcome him back after he, among several other Wizards, struggled with Covid.

    Hachimura’s biggest hole obviously remains the 3-point shot, as he is hitting just 0.9 triples per game, but he has the green light to shoot more (2.6 attempts per game) and his percentages have been significantly improved this season (35.5 percent), so hopefully he can progress on that area soon.

    The Wizards (Once Again) Punting on Defense 

    The Wizards have the league’s second worst defensive rating so far this year (116.2), allowing a league-worst 121.2 points per game on 48.7 percent from the floor (also a league-worst) and 39.3 percent from behind the arc, so it’s clear that they have been winning simply because of their ability to score 115.2 points per game (fifth best in the league).

    Like most players on the Wizards, defense isn’t generally a strength for Hachimura, despite the fact he has been compared by many to Kawhi Leonard, the comparison being mostly about their body type and offensive style. He has some tools on the defensive end that suggest upside, with long arms and big hands, and he is strong and fast for his size, but rebounding and rim protection are not his strong suits and his defensive numbers have been poor (just 0.7 steals and 0.2 blocks for his career).

    Rui has added some strength over the offseason that helps him avoid getting overpowered in the post and he matches well against some of the top guys in the NBA like LeBron James and Ben Simmons but his pick-and-roll defense is frequently targeted by opponents. He is a willing defender and he has the right motor but he can’t put pressure on attacking bigs, who pretty much bulldoze him. Look at another possession where the Heat quickly switch and send Bam Adebayo on Hachimura, who is helpless and commits the shooting foul.

    His rebounding numbers have also regressed but I haven’t seen anything different this year and it’s likely that this is an effect of Russell Westbrook’s presence in D.C. as Hachimura stills averages 1.3 offensive rebounds.

    Learning From Mistakes & Systemic Failures

    As much as the Wizards want to win this year, they haven’t sacrificed the growth and the development of their recent draft picks (except from Troy Brown Jr. of course), with Rui and Deni Avdija both starting and going through the growing pains of playing against bigger and better opponents. Here is a possession where Scott Brooks probably lost his cool as Hachimura tries to pos- up against an above average defender such as Jaylen Brown and gets the ball easily picked out of his hands.

    Hachimura didn’t grow up in the US and he was clearly overwhelmed in his rookie season going against guys that he wasn’t aware of. The 6’8”, 230-pound forward dedicated time this offseason learning more about his fellow teammates, with film study becoming a routine in his effort to better prepare himself. The level of competition in the NBA, compared to college, is significantly higher and he knows that he needs to improve his defense, his rebounding, his ball-handling – pretty much all areas and not just one thing.

    He has won over his coaches and his teammates with consistent energy and hustle and is always one of the first guys to run in the open court. Unfortunately, one of the systematic flaws that affects Washington’s young players is the lack of fast break points as the team is second from the bottom with just 9.6 points per game. Rui has the ability to run and finish off lobs but Washington has struggled securing the rebound and manufacturing fast break opportunities. Look at a great possession where he first uses his active hands to steal the ball from Jeff Teague and then immediately jumps to the fast break, finishing with a dunk.

    Fantasy Implications

    Hachimura finds himself in a tough position this year as the Wizards want to win and also develop their young players. With a roster construction that lacks a defensive identity, the Wizards have struggled to win and Scott Brooks seems to be on the verge of an exit while rumors about Bradley Beal seeking a trade don’t seem to go away.

    Rui is currently returning top-125 value in 9-cat leagues and unless the Wizards pull the trigger it’s likely that his usage remains low and his numbers take a hit in his sophomore year. There is plenty of work to be done as he needs to gain experience, study defensive schemes and develop as a passer and playmaker. His floor as a player seems set as a solid rotation forward but his ceiling is a totally open mainly because of his late start in basketball and the amount of work he needs to put in order to become a reliable stretch forward on top of everything else.

    He is someone that I’m avoiding in redraft leagues this year but I’m buying his stock in dynasty formats as all signs point toward him having plenty of room for development.

    Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of February 6th.

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