When John Wall officially became a member of the Washington Wizards, the team literally rolled out the red carpet for his introduction in the nation’s capital.
There was nothing discreet about it. Wall was already a star coming out of Kentucky — he was used to seeing his face on advertisements, children wearing “11” jerseys and fans bombarding his Twitter mentions, hoping he lands in their NBA city.
The realities of the NBA — and really, the team’s failure to capitalize on Wall’s talent early in his career — stopped Wall’s star from growing, and becoming the megastar most pundits thought he would develop into out of college.
Looking back, the team could have done a lot more to assist Wall in his growth — surrounding him with competent, hard-working peers would have been a solid start
(and not JaVale McGee , Nick Young , and Andray Blatche).
There’s no re-do — just lessons to be learned.
The crew that was tasked with creating a championship-quality team around Wall is largely gone, save for Tommy Sheppard, and the team has, again, hit the reboot button.
Wall is 29, recovering from an achilles tear, and Bradley Beal, while only 26, isn’t a fresh face, either.
Ideally, the Wizards — and the team’s new front office staff — would’ve been able to start from scratch this past summer with the top pick. Obviously, the lottery balls didn’t bounce the Wizards’ way — but that hasn’t prevented the Wizards from finding a player they believe can become the face of the franchise.
Just two games into his NBA career, Rui Hachimura has very much become “the man” in Washington.
Sure — Beal signed a contract extension and he’s the best player on the team. He’s a multiple time All-Star (and one could argue, he should have been on the All-NBA team last season) and the Wizards will go as far as he can take them.
Beal was groomed for the role. He was the Robin to Wall’s Batman for years — he let veterans like Nene, Paul Pierce, and even Trevor Ariza guide him during his first few playoff appearances — but now he’s moved into the driver’s seat. Beal’s progress — like that of most players in their early-20s — was gradual.
But next to Beal in the passenger’s seat is Hachimura — a player the Wizards clearly envision sharing a dual role with Beal the same way Beal once did with Wall.
The Wizards, of course, will be patient with Hachimura. It takes years for a player to learn the speed of the pros, the nuances of each opponents’ game, and beyond the court, seemingly minuscule differences, like diet, can take someone from being merely a role player to a borderline All-Star.
Hachimura is unlike most rookies, though — and it’s why, already, just two games in (and even before he stepped foot onto the court), the Wizards are treating him like the star they think he’ll be.
At 21, Hachimura is already familiar with being the “face” of Japanese basketball — he’s used to swarms of media, answering the same questions without getting fatigued, and carrying an entire team on the court with almost no help.
In a way, being the “face” of whatever team he’s playing for is normal for Hachimura, who’s dominating the global sponsorship market already.
Washington knew this coming in — and they’re embracing Hachimura’s stardom. They’ve hired a Japanese correspondent, whose sole purpose on the team is to churn out Hachimura content — which, of course, is posted on the team’s Japanese website and social media pages.
The Wizards are all-in on Hachimura — and they would be foolish not to be.
Besides being incredibly marketable internationally, Hachimura has a star’s game. He has Kawhi Leonard-like poise (sorry, Tommy). He takes his time on the floor — picks his spot without making the game more difficult than it needs to be. His game is like his demeanor — quiet, but when you look up at the scoreboard, his production won’t go unnoticed.
An example of why Bradley Beal believes Rui Hachimura is “going to be a problem.” pic.twitter.com/8z4W5puMDX— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) October 26, 2019
Hachimura is a coach’s dream — he’s low-maintenance, on and off the court, and never turns off his professionalism. It’s almost as if he was built in a laboratory — the perfect player to start a team with, cleansing the franchise of all the decades’ worth of malfeasance it committed upon the desperate fan base.
Attempting to predict the future is a futile exercise, but with Hachimura, the Wizards already have a pretty good idea of what they have — and what’s coming.
The team needed something — someone — to start anew with. Washington couldn’t have pitched a rebuild without a sure-thing — a player they could turn to and recognize as the one who’s “up next.”
This time, the revamped front office took the locker room into account. Players like Thomas Bryant, who’s quickly becoming one of the league’s premier young big men, Troy Brown, and Moritz Wagner approach the game much differently than Wall’s teammates did back in 2010. Having proven veterans, like Beal and Isaiah Thomas around, won’t hurt, either.
“He has the tools to be a superstar,” Thomas said in a recent interview. “He’s a guy that asks questions, tries to learn, very smart, has a high IQ. He’s in the mold of a Kawhi Leonard. He’s very talented.”
Washington’s roster and the team’s vision is a reflection of Hachimura — it’s young, hungry, and if you give it some time, it could become something special.
And if/when the team ever does become a winner, it’ll likely be because Hachimura is in the center of it.