The spotlight was on Rui Hachimura to open the 2022-23 NBA preseason. In his home country of Japan, he was the Wizards’ star for all intents and purposes. He did the most media, addressed the crowd before both games against the Warriors, and played in front of many fans wearing his jersey. Hachimura responded well to the attention by averaging 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two games. The scenes from Tokyo were out of a fairytale, but it’s about to get real for Washington and Hachimura.
The ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft is entering the last year of his rookie contract and has until October 17th at 6 pm EST to sign an extension. If the season starts without a new agreement, he will enter restricted free agency next offseason. General manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards’ Front Office face a tough decision on Hachimura. Let’s break down what Hachimura’s extension could look like, the arguments for/against the extension, and what the Wizards should do in the end.
How much would an extension cost?
Extensions must be for at least two seasons and most rookie extensions last four years. The cheapest rookie extension by average annual salary in the last four seasons was Landry Shamet’s four-year, $42.5 million (with just two years guaranteed) extension with the Suns last year. Wendell Carter Jr. signed for $50 million over 4 years, a low water-mark among top 10 picks since 2019. Shamet’s deal with two team options (essentially) seems too team-friendly for Hachimura to accept. But it’d be surprising if the Wizards offered a full four years at Carter’s price.
A contract in line with Kyle Kuzma’s three-year, $40 million extension might be the best compromise. It might seem a bit rich because Hachimura is less accomplished and has missed more games than Kuzma until this point. However, the potential cap spike from the NBA’s upcoming television deal could make that salary look like a bargain. Kuzma’s deal has a player option, which the Wizards will have to deal with this offseason. Washington may be in a position to avoid giving Hachimura a player option.
If Hachimura’s deal falls in line with previous extensions, his extension should cost somewhere between $10 million-$15 million per season with a sweet spot around $13 million. The contract would likely be for three or four years. It could also contain a non-guaranteed year or player option on the end, depending on who wins the other negotiation points. All of this hinges on what Hachimura wants. If he wants a number close to Keldon Johnson’s $18.5 million a year, then this article is moot because the Wizards should just let him hit restricted free agency. For our purposes, let’s assume Hachimura is willing to negotiate within the range proposed here.
Why the Wizards should go for an extension
Hachimura has flashed the ability to be a scoring machine when healthy. He has posted 16.5 points per 36 minutes over his first three seasons, including an impressive 18.1 points per 36 last year. He also ranked in the 72nd percentile in points per shooting attempt last season, according to Cleaning The Glass. After two years of staunchly negative on/off numbers, Hachimura drew closer to even in his third year. The Wizards’ offense was only 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the court.
Hachimura flashed the ability to hit threes at an elite level last season. He shot nearly 45% on a career-high 2.9 attempts per game. That’s not a ton of volume, but enough to get excited about. His potential as a transition finisher is tantalizing as well. He was 13th in points per possession among players with at least 100 transition possessions. Most of those points came at the rim because Hachimura beat the defense down the court. He also has the skill set to be a grab-and-go off defensive rebounds.
Rui Hachimura in transition pic.twitter.com/C1nHWVFF2M— Gabe Ibrahim (@gabe_ibrahim) October 11, 2022
If the Wizards are happy with his progression and think they can maximize Hachimura’s skills, there are financial reasons to extend him. Getting an extension done now may bring down his cost if he does develop this year. The NBA’s looming new TV deal also provides an incentive for an extension since the cap will spike and make these deals look cheaper in hindsight.
The move would also provide some clarity on Washington’s potential luxury tax bill and, if the extension starts at a salary less than Hachimura’s $18 million cap hold, the team will get a little bit more cap space to operate this offseason. Furthermore, an extension would take some pressure off Hachimura, who struggled with burnout last season.
Why the Wizards should stand pat
The main reason to not extend Hachimura is fairly obvious: he hasn’t played enough. He has only played in 65 percent of Wizards games since he was drafted, including missing the entire first half of last season. Injuries and mental health issues are not his fault, but the Wizards just don’t have enough data to determine Hachimura’s value right now. Also, players who spend a lot of time injured early in their careers typically have trouble staying healthy over time.
Hachimura’s defense is a negative as well. Last season, the Wizards were a whopping 6.8 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with him on the floor than with him off, according to Cleaning The Glass. That number landed him near the bottom of the league for the category. Hachimura struggled with isolation defense in particular. According to Synergy Sports, he gave up 1.275 points per possession on 40 isolation possessions and ranked in the bottom 20 players of the category. He excelled in this area in his first two seasons, so maybe last year was an aberration. But offenses will certainly attack him now and he’ll need to prove that he can handle isos.
The more concerning area is Hachimura’s spot-up defense. He has never been rated in the top 50% of spot-up defenders and bottomed out in the 8th percentile last year. Spot-up defense is not always up to the player closing out to shooters. However, Hachimura had a lot of bad closeouts and late reads on tape in the NBA, such as this play where Hachimura freezes on a drive and tries to block a three instead of closing out to the shooter’s body:
The issues on defense go to Hachimura’s biggest development hurdle. He doesn’t seem to have a great feel for the game. His defense breaks down against complex offensive sets where he has to make multiple reads. He will often get stuck in bad spots on offense with most of his positive plays coming outside the flow of an offense. Hachimura should improve his feel as he gets older. But he has struggled in many of these areas since college and seemingly has gotten worse.
What should the Wizards do?
If we continue assuming Hachimura is asking for a deal in the $10-15 million/year range for three years or more, I think the Wizards should pass on the opportunity. To be clear, Hachimura showed a lot of promise last season and there’s a good chance he will continue to improve. He had a true offseason for the first time in his career this summer, which should help his development greatly. He also has a year in Wes Unseld Jr’s system under his belt.
However, Washington still needs to see exactly what Rui is to commit to him. Bradley Beal’s new deal and Kristaps Porzingis’s sizeable salary next year greatly shrunk the franchise’s room for error. They have to hit on the next contracts they hand out and have already signed a relatively unproven player to an extension in Daniel Gafford.
Committing to Hachimura now will limit what the Wizards can give Kyle Kuzma and/or Will Barton this upcoming offseason as well as Monte Morris and/or Deni Avdija after 2023-24. Hachimura has to show that he can stay on the court and contribute to a good team before the Wizards risk losing potential key players for him.
The downside to passing on the extension also makes the decision more palatable. If Hachimura takes a huge leap this year, he will likely have earned the starting power forward over Kuzma or has learned to play with Kuzma as a small forward. If Hachimura AND Kuzma earn a big contract this offseason, Ted Leonsis will have good reasons to pay some luxury tax for a good team. The Wizards will have Bird Rights on all of the free agents I mentioned, which means they can go over the luxury tax line to re-sign them.
Let’s say that Hachimura takes a small step and the team wants to keep him. The Wizards have his restricted free agency rights and can still sign him to a value deal. Only eight restricted free agents coming off rookie deals have signed for more than $18 million a year since 2020. In this scenario, Washington could probably lock up Hachimura for considerably less than what his extension would cost.
The Wizards’ front office has a lot more information on Hachimura than we do. The entire organization has talked about what a great offseason he has had. I would not have qualms about an extension within the parameters I set above. But I would let the extension deadline pass and be happy if Hachimura proves me wrong.