When the Wizards selected Rui Hachimura with the ninth pick in last year’s draft, they were met with a chorus of derision from many draftniks. My own pre-draft, stat-based analysis had him valued about where they took him but rated behind others, including Gonzaga teammate Brandon Clarke.
I understand taking Hachimura ahead of Clarke. While the numbers indicated Clarke was the better prospect, he’s also an oddball. He has a center’s game in a shooting guard’s body. He didn’t shoot well or often from long range in college. And he was already 23 years old.
With a season in the books — well, at least most of a season — Hachimura has shown enough positives to make the Wizards satisfied they picked him, as well as enough flaws to provide hope for future improvement or cause of concern, depending on your perspective. This is preamble, though.
In my “awards” article, I chose Hachimura for first team All-Rookie but didn’t provide analysis. Here’s what I thought about when putting together my All-Rookie teams.
Hachimura isn’t a slam dunk first teamer. His season definitely merits All-Rookie inclusion, though his performance falls in a range where he could be fifth or seventh among rookies. Or eighth if voters include Zion Williamson, who I left out of rookie awards consideration because he played just 19 games and 565 minutes. Including Williamson pushes everyone down a notch — he was the best player among this year’s rookies. (I’d still give Rookie of the Year to Ja Morant because of the outstanding full season he had.)
The biggest arguments against Hachimura are bad defense and poor three-point shooting.
The three-point shooting is fair criticism. Of the 28 rookies in my evaluation set who attempted a three point shot, only Jaxson Hayes, Grant Williams, Cody Martin and Bruno Fernando shot worse from long range. Hachimura needs to work on this, especially if the Wizards want to play him at SF.
On defense, I disagree with a lot of what others are saying, and the defense part of my Player Production Average metric is at odds with most other defensive metrics.
The so-called Eye Test recognizes Hachimura as a below average NBA defender. He gets overpowered, gets out of position, fails to execute force rules consistently, and is often unaware of when and how to make a help rotation. Here’s the thing: the same is true for nearly every rookie.
Defense in the NBA is a highly technical endeavor that demands knowledge of team defensive concept and the opponent’s offensive plan, physical attributes (strength, agility, leaping), fundamental skills, and coordination with teammates. These things take time for most players.
The hole in most stat-based defensive metrics for Hachimura this season is the presence of Isaiah Thomas, who utterly wrecked the Wizards defense for half a season. The biggest “victim” of Thomas’ presence was Thomas Bryant — a staggering 14.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Thomas sat and Bryant played.
Number two on the “victims” list: Hachimura. Washington’s defense improved 7.6 points with Hachimura and without Thomas. The defense part of PPA says Hachimura is below average defensively — not among the league’s worst. Basically, pretty normal for a rookie.
As an aside, lineups with Bradley Beal, Hachimura and Bryant were 15.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively without Thomas. Still bad, but standard-issue NBA bad — not historically awful.
Back to Hachimura, the below average defense combines with slightly better than league average offensive efficiency to make a player who rates right around league average. That’s not bad for a rookie.
Here’s where Hachimura ranks in various stats among the 29 rookies in my evaluation set:
- Minutes per game: 7th
- PPA (a per 100 possessions metric): 5th
- defensive PPA: 13th
- Total PPA: 6th
- Offensive rating (points produced per 100 team possessions): 8th
- efg: 16th
- 2pt%: 12th
- 3pt%: 24th
- FT%: 6th
- FTA per 100 team possessions: 6th
- rebounds per 100: 7th
- assists per 100: 20th
- steals per 100: 19th
- blocks per 100: 25th
- turnovers per 100: 3rd
- fouls per 100: 6th
- points per 100: 10th
As should be clear by scanning this list, Hachimura wasn’t a dominating figure, even among rookies. He was pretty good, though, and he did a good job of avoiding negatives like excessive turnovers and fouling. He wasn’t overwhelmed for the most part. And the good free throw shooting may be a positive indicator for his future three-point shooting.
Of the candidates I considered for first team, I don’t see an argument for Michael Porter Jr. He was good when he played but got just half the minutes Hachimura did.
I’ve already discussed why I left Williamson off my hypothetical ballot.
There are good arguments for ranking Terrence Davis or Eric Paschall ahead of Hachimura and good ones for putting Hachimura ahead of them. They’re quite close in value provided this season. Reasonable minds could put them in basically any order. On balance, I thought Hachimura came out on top.