WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura's improvement as a 3-point shooter was one of the most positive developments for the Wizards this past season. In a year that became more about the progress of young players, it was the biggest leap any of them made in a single area.
Hachimura also happened to reshape a personal narrative. He entered the NBA with outside shooting as a question mark and those questions remained valid through his first two seasons. But in Year 3, he took a significant step forward and in doing so may have raised expectations for his career.
Exactly what the 3-point shooting numbers Hachimura produced this season mean in the bigger picture will be only be answered over time. That said, there were some factors that suggest his progress could be sustainable. The sample size was decently large (half a season) and it was the result of an adjustment to his jump shot (he added more arc). Hachimura didn't just get hot from long range, he made a structural change and reaped the benefits.
Hachimura went from shooting 31.3% from three on 2.1 attempts per game in his first two NBA seasons to 44.7% on 2.9 attempts per game in 2021-22. His percentage led Wizards regulars and, while he didn't play enough games to qualify for official leaderboards, Hachimura's 44.7% clip was second only to Clippers guard Luke Kennard (44.9%) among all NBA players who attempted at least 100 threes this season.
Team president Tommy Sheppard is pleased with the strides his 2019 first-round draft pick has made and believes Hachimura will continue to make an impact shooting threes in the years to come.
"That 3-point line certainly became his friend. He embraced it and I expect him to continue to be a 3-point threat next season and that's only going to help the Wizards offense," Sheppard said.
Hachimura, 24, only appeared in 42 games for the Wizards this season because he missed the first half due to personal reasons. He made 55 total threes on 123 attempts.
Hachimura shot 42.9% from the corners and 44.8% above the break, which means he was good from all over. For comparison, he shot just 28.6% from the corners in 2020-21.
In terms of projecting Hachimura's 3-point shooting from here, it may be helpful to look at other players through this point in their careers. Hachimura has played 147 career regular season games, just over a season-and-a-half of NBA basketball.
Here's how his career 3-point percentage stacks up to some other players of comparable size who had similar trajectories through 147 career games:
Harrison Barnes - 109-for-302 (36.1%)
Rui Hachimura - 125-for-347 (36%)
Kawhi Leonard - 125-for-347 (36%)
OG Anunoby - 150-for-421 (35.6%)
Joe Ingles - 129-for-365 (35.3%)
The Leonard parallel is interesting because Hachimura has been compared to him by some in the media and by fellow players over the years. It's a lofty comparison, as Leonard is a future Hall of Fame player and one of the best wing defenders of all-time. But when it comes to 3-point shooting, they line up identically after 147 career games.
Hachimura may never come close to being the player Leonard is overall, but it would be noteworthy even if he developed into the shooter Leonard has become. Over his last six seasons, Leonard has shot 39.1% from three on 4.9 attempts per game. That may not be elite, but it is well above average and represents a legitimate strength.
Purely in terms of 3-point shooting, Ingles would be the best-case scenario on that list. He has become one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, knocking down 41.5% on 5.1 attempts over the past six seasons. In 2020-21, he shot 45.1% on 6.1 attempts per game.
Barnes and Anunoby, meanwhile, are closer to Leonard's level as 3-point shooters. Barnes has shot 39.7% on 4.7 attempts the last three seasons, while Anunoby has made 38.2% on 5.0 attempts during that same span. If Hachimura became that type of shooter, it would be great news for the Wizards.
Now, the four players listed above alongside Hachimura all got better from there. There are examples of some who were on similar tracks, only to regress afterwards. Jeff Green was at 36.7% through 147 games, but is a 33.9% career shooter from long range. Derrick White was at 36.1%, yet is a 34% 3-point shooter for his career.
In order for Hachimura to maintain a high 3-point percentage moving forward, he may have to diversify the ways he gets those shots. This past season, he only made one three off the dribble. Of his 55 made threes, 54 were on catch-and-shoot plays. That may just be a matter of range, as he attempts about a third (30.1%) of his shots overall on pull-ups.
On a related note, Hachimura may want to rethink his shot profile now that he has improved his 3-pointer. In 2021-22, he shot just 35% on midrange plays (according to NBA.com) compared to 76.1% in the restricted area and his 44.7% clip from three. He has long favored the midrange, and even said recently he wanted to shoot more from that zone, but it was by far his least efficient shot this season.
"I think Rui took a big step. In the past, from my perspective, he was a midrange player and in," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. . "He played in the dunker [spot], he played off the elbows, he played in the post. To see him step out offensively and add the 3-point dimension to his game, I think is a huge piece."
If you ask Sheppard and Unseld Jr., Hachimura's biggest room for growth is on the defensive end. In their end-of-year press conferences, both implored Hachimura to improve his consistency and versatility on defense.
Sheppard said he thinks Hachimura can be "an excellent two-way player." Unseld Jr. wants Hachimura to get better at identifying situations on defense and would like to see him become a reliable pick-and-roll defender.
Maybe that's the next area Hachimura can make a leap in.