I wanted not to like Wizards rookie forward Rui Hachimura.
I really did. If there’s anything I’m bitter about, it’s that the Wizards haven’t really cared to help me at all with my transition to media. I can’t just get ONE scoop? One little tidbit of insider info?
Shams. Woj. Shams. Woj. How about the new guy on the block? You can give me SOME nugget. Nope. The pick still leaked to Shams.
They picked Hachimura, a kid I knew nothing about when he was picked. Duke forward Cam Reddish was the big name on the board who had slipped and who most expected.
The mainstream consensus is that the pick was a reach. I’ve said plenty of times I watch very little college ball because of the absurd volume of NBA I watch. I did deep dives on the top 5 or 6 prospects, but plead ignorance when it comes to everyone else.
So full disclosure: besides Reddish, I don’t know much about any of the guys the Wizards could’ve drafted instead of Hachimura. I plan on diving into another 10 or so of the recently drafted guys, so make sure you’re following me on Twitter to see if there’s any diamonds in the rough — including maybe a dive into Wizards second round pick Admiral Schofield.
How did I start my video analysis?
So I sat down to watch Hachimura, with a little bitterness in my heart and hoping this was a pick the Wizards choked away. I watch games in excruciating detail when I do. I fired up a few Gonzaga games, focusing solely on Hachimura.
Was he in the right spots defensively? Did he understand spacing offensively? How are his technique and fundamentals? Does he compete every possession and appear to be coachable and make winning plays? Does he do the things that don’t show up in the box score? After watching a few games, I watched another few hundred just clips of Hachimura, checking out his offensive arsenal, his shot, his moves, his handle, his defense.
I really didn’t want to like him. But I did. Maybe even a lot.
Which players are Hachimura’s floor and ceiling?
Since many people love doing floors and ceilings, here are the players who represent Hachimura’s:
- Floor: Bruno Caboclo
- Ceiling: ... Giannis Antetokounmpo
Yeah. That’s a pretty wide difference between the floor and ceiling, I know.
Here’s why, though. For starters, the floor version of Hachimura that I referenced is Caboclo now, not when he was two years away from being two years away. You may not have noticed because he did it for a pretty terrible Memphis team, but Bruno actually came alive and was TERRIFIC when the Memphis Grizzlies were actually winning a bit last season with a squad of no-names.
He ended up playing 34 games, averaging 8.3 PPG, 4.6 REB, a BLK and 1.5 AST in 23.5 MIN. A ‘swiss-army knife’-type defender, Bruno is going to be in the league for a long time. Bruno of course drew some Antetokounmpo comparisons when he was drafted, and plenty of shock and awe.
But Masai Ujiri saw the potential. Fran Fraschilla was right: it just took Bruno a bit too long to unlock it all. Incredibly, he’s only 23 years old still and has a long productive career ahead of him.
Hachimura is 21 right now. Next season, I expect him to put up stats pretty similar to what Caboclo did last season.
OK, where does the Giannis comparison come in?
Of course, it would require a MASSIVE, MASSIVE leap for him to reach the level of the 2018-19 NBA MVP.
But it required Antetokounmpo a MASSIVE, MASSIVE leap to reach his current level.
No one thought he would be this good when he was drafted 15th. No one thought he would be after a rookie year where he scored under 7 PPG.
Or a sophomore year when he scored 12.7 PPG on a 41-win Bucks team. Antetokounmpo improved EXPONENTIALLY every season he’s been in the league, the result of a relentless work ethic, a need to be locked out of the gym, an unbelievable drive to be the absolute best. I witnessed it from within the league.
Seriously. I remember doing his draft edit and being pretty awed by his floor vision and basketball IQ, and obvious physical ... well, freakness. You saw him playing against a bunch of 6’3 white guys, a pretty broken jumper, so there were questions of course. But then he got in the league. Showed us how adorable he was and how much he loved smoothies.
I remember myself and my guys in the Video Room, including Ryan Richman (now a Wizards assistant coach) watching Antetokounmpo and being in love with his work ethic, humility, motor, IQ. I remember hearing Randy Wittman say ‘that kid is gonna be pretty good’ in his second year or so, clearly impressed by what he did. But no one, and I mean NO ONE, thought he’d be THIS good.
But in terms of physical attributes, Antetokounmpo was absolutely the guy that comes to mind watching Hachimura. Antetokounmpo has grown to 6’11, 240 lbs. When he was drafted, he was 6’9, 196. Hachimura is 6’9, 225 right now. Of course, he’s years older than Antetokounmpo was when he was picked, so he probably won’t end up being nearly 7 feet. But Hachimura has a 7’2 wingspan, Antetokounmpo is 7’3. Hachimura has the frame, the strength, the length. Maybe not the same explosiveness as Antetokounmpo, but there are more similarities as you watch them play.
How good will Hachimura be on defense?
He’s gonna be really, really good defensively. I don’t really understand any of the stat models knocking him defensively. His team went freaking 33-4, 16-0 in conference, and to the Elite Eight. Playing a switch-heavy scheme common in the NBA today, the Zags had the 12th-ranked defense in college basketball.
I’ve talked at length before about how the defensive metrics currently available even in the NBA are pretty nonsensical; in college it’s even worse. He did exactly what his coach asked of him. I see him being a TREMENDOUS defender at the next level, a Antetokounmpo/Pascal Siakam type capable of switching everything, guarding 1-5, getting low and containing smaller guards reasonably well, affecting shots at the rim, being in good help positioning.
For a Wizards’ team that has lacked a defensive identity for a long time, I think he can finally give them something to build around on that end. Not instantly, of course. NBA defense takes some time to master, schemes are really complex, he has some physical habits that need correcting and lateral quickness improvement and so on. But he will be GOOD there.
How good will Hachimura be on offense?
While far from a finished product, he does have very good skills for someone his size and someone who started playing ball not so long ago. He handles the ball very well for a big, able to push in transition and get downhill like — once again — Siakam and Antetokounmpo
Hachimura plays with a good pace, not getting sped up, sensing where help is coming from. He’s a 4 in today’s NBA offense. I don’t think his 3PT shot is good enough to play the 3, at least for the foreseeable future, and he probably isn’t quick enough laterally to guard those smaller guys with great “wiggle” every night.
He rebounds. He screens. He posts up. STRONG. Mark Few is an excellent coach who really teaches the fundamentals. Hachimura has a polished back to the basket game, polished face up game, seals deep, and can play like an old school big. He can absolutely play some 5, and I think he’s more of a 4/5 than a 3/4.
And yes, the midrange! Hachimura’s tremendous from the midrange. Yes, I know it’s a dying shot and you don’t want to build your offense around it. But what impressed me about Hachimura is his skill set of getting his own shot off there is established. Spot up long 2s are what are mostly gone from the NBA.
Hachimura has those but likely won’t get to take many anymore. But guys who can create their own shot from midrange — DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, etc. are hugely valuable. Hachimura can flat out rise up and shoot over a ton of defenders. He has a smooth, simple, and efficient arsenal there and is incredibly effective from the elbows. You see some LaMarcus Aldridge in his game.
What are Hachimura’s strengths?
He has good touch with both hands. Good footwork. Good feel. Good power. He can spin, inside-out dribble, hesitate, cross over. The Wizards will be able to give him the ball at the elbows and let him go to work. They’ll be able to let him rebound and go and push himself in transition. They’ll be able to run some PNR with a small setting a screen for him handling, like Antetokounmpo, Siakam and LeBron James often run.
The Wizards will be able to use Hachimura as a roller. He does need to do a better job setting ball screens, as on the film I watched he frequently whiffed and let defenders go under the screen. But that’s something that can be taught pretty easily. He’s a versatile player. He moves the ball side to side willingly. Dribble handoffs. Swing and go set a side PNR. Pinch post. He is a cog within a productive offense.
What are Hachimura’s areas of improvement?
The concern, of course, is the three point shot. That is not there right now, at all. And in the modern NBA where John Wall has astoundingly virtually never played with a legit stretch big — despite him REALLY REALLY needing it to maximize his speed and athleticism — Hachimura not being that guy either is a bit concerning.
But the Wizards do develop shooters. Trevor Ariza developed his shot tremendously (the first time around). Martell Webster. Jason Smith. Kris Humphries. Bradley Beal didn’t shoot a great percentage in college. Otto Porter. Kelly Oubre. A bunch other I’m forgetting. They have a good development staff, led by David Adkins, who really knows how to teach. If anyone can develop Hachimura into a capable shooter, they can.
For now, though: I think he plays like Antetokounmpo in that regard. Defenses will sag off him. There will be some difficulties. But like him, the success will come from how much pressure he puts on the defense. How relentlessly he attacks. The steals he gets, the rebounds and goes. Posting up, getting smalls switched onto him. Attacking from inside-out.
I also love betting on guys who improve with rapid pace. Hachimura climbed tremendously in his 3 years at Gonzaga. As mentioned, he’s only been playing since 13 after starting as a baseball player. His growth has been meteoric so far. Guys who have an entire country behind them tend to feel an extra sense of obligation to make everyone proud. Hachimura by all accounts is a worker, a phenomenal kid, and the type of guy you plant as a seed and watch it blossom.
After I wrote all this and had formulated my opinion, I reached out to someone in the Wizards’ front office. I think this pick was about culture as much as anything. My source said, “We realize the guys we are bringing are going to be the change agents for what lies ahead — it is critical that they are all serious minded, accomplished, [and] have great upside and work ethic.”
My source also said any parallels with Kawhi Leonard are “more about the quietness they go about their business. Let the game speak for them.” I like silent assassins. I have a few more quotes in my video from that source, as well as some from Stephen Curry. Make sure you check it out.
Six-foot-nine guys who can handle the ball and have 7’2 wingspans and big physical frames and switch everything defensively are a big part of the NBA’s evolution.
With Hachimura, the Wizards may have just evolved.