Rui Hachimura may only be a rookie, but he leads the league in lofty comparisons.
It started on draft night when Chauncey Billups compared him to Kawhi Leonard. That one has stuck with Hachimura's teammate Bradley Beal lending it credence and Lakers forward Jared Dudley reigniting the conversation on Twitter.
But that's not the only all-time great Hachimura has been linked to. Some have even drawn comparisons to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP. At least Hachimura is built like Leonard. The Antetokounmpo requires a bit more imagination.
In a way, it's impressive for Hachimura to draw those parallels. But it is also a lot to place on a rookie and both comparisons seem to overlook the defensive end. Leonard is one of the best wing defenders of all-time and Antetokounmpo could win the defensive player of the year award this season. So, ignoring defense (50 percent of the game!) in making a comparison to them is, well, strange.
There is a much better comparison for Hachimura, one that is much more attainable. That is T.J. Warren, who has been one of the stars of the NBA's bubble in Orlando in a breakout performance for the Indiana Pacers. Warren is also built like Hachimura - 6-foot-8 with broad shoulders - and actually has a very similar game.
Or, at least he used to. Warren has continually improved now to the point where he is on the cusp of stardom. And his road to the present may show the blueprint for how Hachimura can get there himself.
Like Hachimura, Warren began his career with a preference for the midrange and the ability to attack the rim. Three-point shooting was not his game. Through his first four NBA seasons, Warren averaged 13.7 points while only attempting 1.3 threes per game. He shot 28.3 percent from long range.
Hachimura as a rookie has averaged 13.5 points per game while making 28.7 percent of his threes on 1.8 attempts per game. The numbers are basically identical.
Of Hachimura's 11.4 total field goal attempts per game, 84.2 percent are twos. Warren through his first four seasons took 88.8 percent of his shots from inside the three-point line.
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Warren was effective at it, too. By that fourth season, his Age 24 campaign, Warren was averaging 19.6 points while attempting only 1.4 threes on average and shooting 22.2 percent from the perimeter. He had become a plus-scorer without threes, which is not common for wing players.
It led to Warren being underrated and viewed as a throwback player. The Phoenix Suns ended up trading him for cash considerations in a move that looks silly in hindsight.
Warren, though, has continued to work on his range. He reportedly took upwards of 42,000 shots in one summer and we are seeing the results now.
Warren is now a legitimate three-point threat. He has knocked down 41.4 percent from three on 3.7 attempts the past two seasons. And in the bubble, where he has averaged 31.0 points per game, he's hitting 52.4 percent from three on 7.0 attempts. That has led to some monster games, like his 53 points against the Sixers (9-12 3PT), 39 points against the Lakers (5-8 3PT) and 32 points against the Magic (4-5 3PT).
At the age of 26, Warren has supercharged his game by adding more threes at a higher clip and with more volume. Hachimura can do the same, if he works at it.
Hachimura himself sees Warren as a model to follow.
"He's a good guy to watch, I think," Hachimura said. "He plays my game."
On Tuesday night against the Bucks, we saw both the good and bad of Hachimura as a three-point shooter at this point in his career. He started the game by passing up some open threes, including once where he paid for doing so with a turnover. But he settled in, started firing them off and ended up 3-for-9 from long range, which isn't bad. The nine attempts were a career-high and the three made threes tied his career mark. He made all three of them in the first half.
The only way to get better at shooting threes is to shoot more of them. If Hachimura commits to doing that both in the offseason and in games, he could be lighting up the league like Warren before long.
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