When general manager Tommy Sheppard drafted Rui Hachimura with the ninth overall pick this past summer, it drew a mixed response from fans. Rather than gambling on a guy many thought had higher a ceiling like Cam Reddish or Sekou Doumbouya, Sheppard went with the safer Hachimura who some viewed as a ‘lower ceiling but higher floor’ player.
Some thought Hachimura would have a good NBA career, but few predicted that he’d be this good just eight games into his young career. So far, he/s averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He logged a double-double in his first professional game and scored 23 points in the 159-158 shootout against the Houston Rockets. And he had a 21-point outburst on 10-13 shooting against the Cavaliers.
Coming into the season Hachimura was a long shot to win Rookie of the Year. Two weeks and eight games changed a lot, though. Hachimura now has the fifth best odds, or even better depending on which sports book you look at. With the odds on favorite in Zion Williamson expected to miss at least another month, the door is open for someone like Hachimura.
The scouting report on the former Gonzaga Bulldog was that he likes to do most of his damage around the rim and in the midrange — and his play so far has confirmed that. He’s been okay from close in (56 percent), very good in the midrange (67 percent), and subpar so far from three-point distance (25 percent).
Hachimura is most in his comfort zone when operating in the midrange. There’s no hesitation to his game as he stops, pops, and lets it fly whenever he feels he’s at a distance he’s comfortable with.
A polished midrange game is a good thing for Hachimura and the Wizarsd. His bread and butter so far is clearly in the 8-16 foot range. As his game evolves and he spends more time in the weight room, it’ll be easier for him to slowly back his shot out further and further from the hoop than say a guy like Thomas Bryant who had to completely reinvent his game to stay in the NBA. Hachimura’s learning curve should be shorter than a guy who formerly played with his back to the basket.
Hachimura’s next favorite area to operate in is close to the hole and within eight feet. Here, he’s capable of playing with his back to the basket utilizing both his height and frame to his advantage. In Houston game, arguably Hachimura’s most memorable moment came when he backed down P.J. Tucker (who’s no slouch of a defender by the way), got to his spot, and hit a fadeaway over him.
There is just no way Rui Hachimura is a rookie. pic.twitter.com/NA3tm0eVVj— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) October 31, 2019
Not only was the move impressive, but its shows off his basketball IQ. He recognized being defended by a shorter player, took his time getting to his spot, and then nailed the shot.
What’s caught me most by surprise so far this year is his ability to get to the basket. He has a quicker than expected first step for a guy his size and shows some burst when cutting through the lane. Not only that, he knows what the scouting report is. Most teams know he likes the midrange and therefore try to make him put the ball on the floor or force him to step back to three-point range. Hachimura has been able to get some easy buckets by countering with a quick pump fake and explosion to the basket.
Defense aside, the biggest area for improvement with Rui is his three-point shooting. He’s thinking about his shot too much rather than just letting it fly — and who can blame him? Hachimura wasn’t much of a three-point shooter in college and now has to back up another foot and a half for NBA range.
The change in distance is something that has to be learned for an NBA newcomer, and so far Hachimura has overcompensated by squatting more in his shot rather than just trusting his form.
Whereas here, he catches and shoots in one fluid motion, perhaps because he was more focused on a quick release to beat the closeout.
One of the best reasons Hachimura could be Rookie of the Year is opportunity. He’s gotten it, and will get plenty more because the Wizards don’t have anyone pushing to take his minutes. Even if he does turn in the inevitable dud (i.e. against Minnesota and Indiana) he’ll be right back in the starting lineup the next night.
Lastly, Rookie of the Year is unlike the other awards in that the team doesn’t have to perform well in order to win it. Since the Wizards are in a full rebuild, the success of their season won’t be measured by the number of wins but rather, are the you guys developing? So the combination of Hachimura getting plenty of opportunities coupled with the injury to favorite Zion Williamson opens the door for Hachimura to win the award. And if he’s able to consistently have more performances like that against the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and Cleveland Cavaliers, it might be enough to catapult him to the Rookie of the Year award.