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What does Rui Hachimura’s rookie season say about his future?

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New York Knicks v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Wizards’ selection of Rui Hachimura in last year’s draft was met by draftniks with mostly scorn and mockery. My pre-draft analysis diverged with the “experts.” I had Hachimura rated about where he was picked, albeit behind a few other players still on the board such as his Gonzaga teammate Brandon Clarke.

Over the course of 41 games and 1217 minutes, Hachimura provided ample ammunition to predict a bright future...or a blah one. Detractors point to on/off data. He fared poorly in adjusted plus-minus metrics, particularly on defense. The Wizards were -200 for the season when he was on the floor.

The on/off data can be reasonably interpreted in different ways. For 370 minutes he shared the floor with Isaiah Thomas, who is the least effective NBA defender I’ve ever seen. When Hachimura and Thomas were out there together, the Wizards allowed 125.0 points per 100 possessions. When Hachimura played without Thomas, it was 117.4 — a difference of 7.6 points per 100 possessions.

Even though the team defense was a better when Thomas was out and Hachimura played it was still a) terrible and b) 1.6 points worse than the Wizards defense for the season. Indeed, with both Hachimura and Thomas out of the game, the Wizards allowed 111.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have ranked 20th. Still not good, but significantly better than when Hachimura played and a lot better than dead last.

In the defense part of PPA, which is generally more stable than plus-minus metrics, Hachimura rated below average. But it was an “industry standard” bad that’s pretty normal for a rookie — not the apocalyptic bad I heard from national commentators or that might be suggested by plus-minus metrics.

Overall, he rated basically average — PPA of 102 (average is 100) — which is solid for a rookie. Most rookies struggle. After the usual fluctuations of the first 10 games, his PPA for the season bounced between 110 and 95.

Rui Hachimura performance EKG.
Kevin Broom

That’s not to say Hachimura’s play could be characterized as consistent, however. He strung together three average or better games just once all season — a PPA 214 February 28 at Utah, a 142 March 1 at Golden State, and a 227 March 3 at Sacramento.

Arguably, his best stretch came in the opening weeks of the season:

  • October 23 — PPA 127 at Dallas in the season opener
  • October 25 — 56 at Oklahoma City
  • October 26 — 148 at San Antonio
  • October 30 — 173 vs. Houston
  • November 2 — -180 vs. Minnesota
  • November 4 — 281 vs. Detroit
  • November 6 — -59 at Indiana
  • November 8 — 229 vs. Cleveland
  • November 13 — 283 at Boston

That Boston game was probably his best of the season. Despite being limited to 24 minutes due to foul trouble, he pumped in 21 points on just 12 shots.

After that, his performance vacillated — sometimes excellent, sometimes terrible. That’s normal for a rookie.

Historical comps from my historical doppelganger machine seem about right for a player who was an average producer but still has a lot of work to do on his game. They include a collection of “good-not-great” and “not so good” like Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Ryan Gomes, Marvin Williams, Michael Finley and TJ Warren.

Considering Hachimura’s anachronistic penchant for midrange jumpers, it’s appropriate that one of his top comps is former Bullet John Williams.

Down the list a ways, but still in the “similar” category, was a name that jumped off the screen: James Worthy. Adjusted for pace, Hachimura’s rookie year had some non-superficial resemblance to the Hall of Famer’s second season.

Like nearly any rookie, Hachimura has lots of improving to do. He’ll need to get stronger, gain experience, study the defensive scheme and learn how teams want to attack, reconstruct his jumper (he can’t have different mechanics for two-point and three-point shots) and develop as a passer and playmaker. His floor as a player seems set as a solid rotation forward. His ceiling is a question because of his late start in basketball and the amount of work he has to do. If he does the work, he could be an All-Star.