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T.J. Warren's emergence shows the blueprint for Rui Hachimura

T.J. Warren's emergence shows the blueprint for Rui Hachimura

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.


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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5 takeaways from Wizards-Pacers, including Rui Hachimura's match-up with T.J. Warren

5 takeaways from Wizards-Pacers, including Rui Hachimura's match-up with T.J. Warren

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 111-100 on Monday afternoon in Disney World. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

Expected result

We knew the road was going to get tougher for the Wizards after they started out with the Suns and Nets, two of the worst teams the NBA brought to Orlando. And even with Victor Oladipo out for rest and Domantas Sabonis injured, the Indiana Pacers still possess far more experienced talent than the Wizards do.

Washington was able to hang around in the first half, but the Pacers blew the doors open in the third quarter and coasted to victory. T.J Warren had another big game with 34 points and 11 rebounds.

The result of the game, though, is secondary to what the Wizards' young players did, and there were some positives in that regard. Troy Brown Jr. (10 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) and Thomas Bryant (20 points, 11 rebounds) were solid. So was Jerome Robinson (17 points), who is producing more consistently now than ever before.


Another off-day for Rui

We are starting to see the effects of Rui Hachimura being moved up the scouting report. After he went for just nine points against the Nets on Sunday, he managed only nine points on 4-for-12 shooting against the Pacers. He was harassed by one of the NBA's best defenses and should be able to take some lessons away from the experience.

Hachimura, by the way, got to spend much of the game matching up with Warren, who made waves recently with a 53-point game against the Sixers. It was fascinating to watch because Hachimura and Warren's games are very similar.

Warren, in fact, might be one of the best comparisons to Hachimura in today's game. While many have focused on Kawhi Leonard, that is arguably unfair to Hachimura. Leonard is the best wing defender of his generation and has the chance to be an all-time great. Hachimura isn't known for his defense at all, at least not yet. So, it makes little sense.

Warren, on the other hand, is a gifted scorer who began as a midrange killer and has expanded his range to add a three-point shot, just as Hachimura will hope to do. They also have nearly identical builds. And if Hachimura follows the same track as Warren, who is now a fringe All-Star, that would be just fine.


Rotation changes

Losing their first two games in Orlando was enough to convince head coach Scott Brook to shake things up. He pulled Shabazz Napier from the starting lineup for Ish Smith and also turned to Admiral Schofield early and more often. Schofield appeared to take the place of Jerian Grant, who actually played quite well the day before.

As for Schofield, it was good to see him play more, though he didn't play particularly well. He had logged only six minutes so far in the seeding games and was a DNP on Sunday. They need to play him more just to see what he's capable of, as this is their best chance to get film on him in NBA situations. Though he just joined the organization as a second round pick last summer, minutes are going to be much harder to come by next season. He needs to be given an opportunity.

Regarding the point guard spot, it would be nice to see Brown get a real, extended look there by the end of the Wizards' time in Orlando. Point guard is really the only position the Wizards don't have a young guy to let loose. Both Smith and Napier are veterans. 

But Brown can play there and given this is becoming entirely about player development, the Wizards should let him play at least one game with 30-plus minutes at the one. Maybe you don't do that against the Thunder or the Celtics where Chris Paul or Kemba Walker could eat him up. But what about against the Pelicans? Let him go toe-to-toe with Lonzo Ball for 35 minutes. Maybe he shows you he can be counted on at point, where he has said he would prefer to play long-term.

Napier stepped up

After getting demoted to the bench, Napier responded well. In fact, Brooks pointed Napier out as a player he wanted to see more from, just as he did with Brown and Bryant the day before. They bounced back accordingly, and so did Napier. Maybe there was a cause-and-effect.

Napier came out blazing with 11 pts in his first nine minutes on 5-for-7 shooting. He ended up with 16 points and four assists.

That was good to see because, remember, Napier is an impending free agent. Everyone focused on Davis Bertans, who decided to opt out, but Napier has a lot riding on this offseason as well. And because of that, he has a lot to gain in Orlando. It would be a shame if he were to fizzle out at this point in the year.

Points in the paint

The Wizards got decimated by the Pacers in the paint where they outscored Washington 62-44. Warren hurt them and so did Myles Turner, who had 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

That, of course, is not a strength area for the Wizards' defense. Bryant and Moe Wagner (5 points, 5 rebounds) aren't exactly known for their rim protection.

And as it all transpired, it sort of made you realize how much the Wizards could use a guy like Turner. If you recall, he was reportedly available not long before the trade deadline. If Indiana starts picking up the phone again, the Wizards would be smart to give it some consideration.

He led the NBA in blocks last season, is only 24 and is on a manageable contract. He would be a great fit alongside John Wall, Bradley Beal and Hachimura. And the Wizards really need a shot-blocker to shore up the defense behind Wall, who is likely to struggle on that end more than he will on offense coming off of his injury.

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DeMatha HS coach tells stories of Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant ahead of Wizards-Pacers

DeMatha HS coach tells stories of Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant ahead of Wizards-Pacers

DeMatha High School head coach Mike Jones can still remember the conversations between Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant when they were underclassmen, some of those discussions which were in passing, that they didn't even know he heard.

Long before they became NBA first round picks, the two were best friends. They would sit in the locker room in Hyattsville, MD and marvel over what it would be like to someday make it to the league.

"They used to talk about playing in the NBA, they used to talk about making it. They used to talk about playing against each other," Jones told NBC Sports Washington.

On Monday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington Plus, Grant and Oladipo's teams will square off in the NBA's campus in Orlando. Grant now plays for his hometown Wizards, the team his father also played for, while Oladipo is in his third year with the Indiana Pacers.

"To be able to see their dreams come true, it's incredibly rewarding because I know they did everything they were supposed to do to make that happen," Jones said.

As Jones can attest, both Grant and Oladipo did not take the path many first round picks did. Both arrived at DeMatha without any hype. They had to start out on the freshman team and work their way up to varsity. And they did it the hard way.


They would show up early in the morning before school to work out at what is known as the 'Breakfast Club.' The rules are simple. You show up dressed and ready to go by six in the morning or else you aren't allowed in the gym.

Grant would travel from 30 minutes away and Oladipo from 45 minutes out. Grant would set his alarm and walk into his mother's room and bounce on the bed to wake her up. 

"He woke his mom up, he woke his ride up to take him to the gym. It wasn't the other way around. That's love for the game," Jones said.


Once they arrived at school, the gym would be opened by David Adkins, who is now an assistant coach for the Wizards and will be sitting on the bench on Monday. Adkins cut his teeth in the high school ranks, but now leads an expansive player development program for an NBA team.

Those early morning workouts helped Grant and Oladipo rise through DeMatha's vaunted basketball system, which has produced many stars at all levels of the game. Monday's NBA slate also features other alums from the school like Jerami Grant of the Nuggets, Jerian's brother, and Quinn Cook of the Lakers.

But just having the talent and going to DeMatha isn't enough to make it to the sport's highest level. It takes a level of determination not everyone has.

Grant and Oladipo each went the extra mile to go from unheralded high school players to big-time college stars to NBA first round picks. They have become testimonials for Jones to cite to the young players he coaches today.

"It makes it easier for someone to listen to you, but let's be honest, kids are funny. You can say the No. 1 pick in the draft [Markelle Fultz] didn't play varsity until he was a junior, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft [Oladipo] didn't start on varsity until his senior year," Jones said. 

"I can throw those stories out to an eighth grader and he's looking at me like 'yeah, that's cool but I'm ready to play varsity today.' It probably doesn't help as much on the front end, but during the process it helps because when a young man doesn't have immediate success, we can point to those guys."

For those who are willing to put in the time, Grant and Oladipo represent shining examples of what hard work can lead to. Jones believes their success is validation for his program and also the basketball talent in the D.C. area as a whole.

But Jones knows that for this particular duo it also represents something on a more personal level.

"Just their friendship, their partnerhood, their bond together; I've never seen anything like it," Jones said. "I'm so proud to have been able to watch them up close."

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