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Rui Hachimura already showing signs of a franchise building block for Wizards

Rui Hachimura already showing signs of a franchise building block for Wizards

The Washington Wizards have found another pillar as they aim to someday build a nice, big and beautiful house. Exactly how good Rui Hachimura will be someday is far from being clear, but through two games it is already sufficiently evident he is a legitimate building block for the future.

Yep, two games. That may not sound like much, but what he has done so far has already checked off several boxes that suggest he will have a long and productive career in the NBA, barring health.

He can score, he can rebound and he plays smart on both ends. He's also athletic enough and physically developed enough to hold his own against NBA competition.

In some ways, it makes sense Hachimura would translate quickly to the professional ranks. He played three years in college and entered the league at 21 years old. This isn't a one-and-done, 19-year-old lottery ticket who was drafted solely based on potential. He entered the league with the expectations of a high floor. The question for him is his ceiling.

But there is translating quickly to the NBA and then there is what Hachimura has done through two games. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds in his debut on Wednesday and then 19 points and five boards against the Thunder on Friday.

Sure, those aren't All-Star numbers, but consider just how hard it is to both score and rebound right away in the NBA. He is just the fifth player in the last 10 years to have at least 30 points and 15 rebounds through two games and just the ninth player in the last 20 years.

The list of players who had 30 and 15 through two games is good company to be in. It's players like LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin and Lauri Markkanen.

Hachimura's 33 points are tied for the fourth-most by any rookie through two games in Wizards/Bullets franchise history. The only three ahead of him are Walt Bellamy (58), John Wall (42) and Earl Monroe (38). Bellamy and Monroe are Hall of Famers and Wall has made five All-Star teams.

Hachimura has proven several things beyond the primary stats most players are judged by. He also has only one turnover, which goes to show his basketball IQ on the offensive end. The Mavericks and Thunder are both above average defensive teams, too.

Hachimura has also backed up the claims by head coach Scott Brooks and others that he is a quick learner and doesn't make the same mistake twice. Against the Thunder, twice Chris Paul pulled the chair out from under him in the post. The first time, Hachimura lost his balance and nearly fell to the floor. The second time, he used his forearm to feel where Paul was while backing him down and was able to stay upright.

Now, it has only been two games and it has by no means been perfect. Hachimura, for instance, is 0-for-7 from three. And not only has he missed them, in many cases he has been essentially dared to shoot by the defense. Teams won't respect his outside shot until he makes them.

But the early returns for Hachimura, the ninth overall pick, have been thoroughly impressive. He at the very least looks like a legitimate NBA rotation player right off the bat. He appears to have the potential to at a minimum be a starting-caliber player in the league.

Whether he will ultimately ascend to Wall and Bradley Beal's level as a franchise player, or if he will fall short of the All-Star tier and just be a solid rotation player like Otto Porter Jr. or Kelly Oubre Jr., we will see. But he's already doing things most rookies in Wizards/Bullets history have not done to this point.

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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold the Raptors under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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