Wizards

Hachimura already looks like Wizards' most-improved player

Wizards

Rui Hachimura stepped on an NBA court as a rookie and was immediately a double-digit scorer with the consistency of a mid-career veteran. Through only three games in his second year, he's already looking better. He may be the most-improved player on the Wizards.

That is despite a delayed start to his season after he missed the team's first four games with conjunctivitis. He had to work his way into shape quickly, with little practice time before his debut, yet he hasn't shown any signs of being a step behind.

Hachimura looks stronger, more confident and more versatile. Through three games, he's averaging 14.3 points with a 55.6 effective field goal percentage while shooting 40% from three (1.7 3PA/g). The Wizards are 2-1 with him in the lineup after losing their first four games.

"I lifted a lot. I got a trainer in L.A. and I was working out with them. I think my body got stronger this offseason," Hachimura said.

Hachimura is said to have added around 10 pounds of muscle over the summer. He was a force off the dribble even as a rookie, with his power and speed, and now is even more effective as a physical mismatch.

The Wizards have utilized that on the block where Hachimura leads the team with 5.0 post-ups per game, up from 1.4 per game last year. The team as a whole ranked 28th in post-ups in 2019-20 (2.3/g), but is now running the third-most (7.4/g) with Russell Westbrook (4.0/g) also helping the cause.

 

Hachimura is scoring plenty of points on those plays. His 1.07 points per possessions on post-ups rank seventh among all players and put his name up there with some of the best back-to-basket scorers in the league like Jayson Tatum (1.64), Kevin Durant (1.58) and Joel Embiid (1.11).

"[Our shooters] open up the floor, so it’s really easy to post up. Especially now, all the other teams are switching on me, so I’ve got small guys on me. That’s when it gets easy," Hachimura said.

Against the Nets on Sunday, Hachimura took advantage of a mismatch down low with Kyrie Irving. Those are the types of plays Hachimura refers to as "easy."

"Point guards aren’t going to get away with switching on him," Brooks said. "He puts them into the paint and scores on them very quickly."

Hachimura can also be dangerous as a passer out of the post. His passing has stood out in general so far this season and from the post he can find shooters on the three-point line who can step into their shot.

Davis Bertans, who last year led the NBA in points per possession on catch-and-shoot plays, compared it to getting a pass from a rebounder in practice.

"That’s like the best shot we can get," he said.

The two key areas to watch for Hachimura's development remain his outside shooting and his defense. His three-point shot has looked better so far, but it's early. Continuing to expand his range will augment his strengths around the rim and in the midrange.

Defensively, the Wizards could use more help and Hachimura has some lofty comparisons to Kawhi Leonard to live up to. But so far, he has had some moments on that end, as well.

Against the Nets, he guarded Durant for much of the game. In their matchups, Durant only had five points and went 1-for-6 from the field and 1-for-5 from three. 

Hachimura also got away with some plays where Durant missed open shots, ones he would normally make. But overall, it was a step in the right direction for a young player who may be tasked with guarding top scorers like Durant a lot this season.

"When you guard a great player, how you gain their respect is by challenging them, being physical and making their life as difficult as possible," Brooks said. "I thought Rui didn’t give him a lot of comfortable looks. When you do that, you give yourself the best chance."

It has only been three games since Hachimura made his 2020-21 debut, but the signs are already there he's making a leap. If this continues, it could be one of the most important developments for the Wizards this season.

 

Tune in at 6 PM to NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday for complete coverage of the Wizards game against the Philadelphia 76ers.