Rui Hachimura and Team Japan were blown out, 98-45, by Team USA in the FIBA World Cup on Thursday morning. Here are five observations from the Wizards' 2019 first round pick's performance...
1. Though there was much to analyze about Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura's showdown with Team USA on Thursday morning, there is only one way to begin a story about his game. That is with his dunk over Pacers center Myles Turner, which was undoubtedly the play of the game, even if it in no way indicated how the rest of the day for Japan went.
Hachimura had looked lost in the first half, unable to break free from the defense of Harrison Barnes and Mason Plumlee. But he came out of the locker room in the third quarter more assertive and caught Team USA sleeping on a quick drive to the rim.
He was guarded by Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton on the wing and took off on a catch-and-go with his right hand. He dashed into the lane, got good lift off his left foot and brought the sledgehammer down on Turner, who led the NBA in blocks last season.
It was a powerful slam that may go down as Hachimura's best moment of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. It also should give Wizards fans hope about his ability to translate quickly to the NBA. If he can dunk on Turner, he can dunk on anybody in the world.
2. The dunk aside, Hachimura had a rough game overall against the United States, as did many of his teammates. He went scoreless in the first quarter despite playing all 10 minutes and finished with four points (2-8 FG), four rebounds, two steals and an assist.
Hachimura was able to break free in the second half, but in the first he was stifled by USA's defense. Plumlee proved a difficult match-up with his size and strength and he was able to keep Hachimura far away from the rim. Japan could barely get Hachimura the ball in the first half because of the pressure USA put on their guards beyond the three-point line. And when Hachimura did receive a pass, he was often not close enough to the basket to create.
All of that prevented Hachimura from ever getting into a rhythm. Before the dunk, he squandered the few opportunities for daylight that he saw. On one play early in the third, he tried to power through Barnes only to miss badly off the backboard. A few plays later, he pulled up around the free throw line and clanged a shot off the rim.
3. There were many mismatches between Team USA and Japan, but the most obvious was down low as Japan lacks the size and athleticism of USA's big men. Hachimura had to essentially play the five and did not look natural in that role.
Where Hachimura struggled in particular was setting screens. It just isn't his game. He doesn't have the size or technique, and seemed to shy away from committing to contact. Not setting good screens prevented Hachimura from then getting open on rolls to the basket.
Maybe it's something he can get better at over time, but it looks like his pick-and-roll game needs some work if the Wizards plan to utilize him in those sets.
4. Overall, Japan was dominated by the United States, even though the U.S. sent essentially their J.V. roster to China. They don't have any superstars on the team this summer, yet they still blasted Japan by 43 points.
That was, of course, not surprising. Most important to note is that this is the state of Japan basketball in 2019. It goes to show how rare it is for a talent like Hachimura to come from the country and how much potential there is for growth in the sport.
Thursday served as almost a baseline test for Team Japan. Now that they have Hachimura, and former George Washington University star Yuta Watanabe, where can the country's basketball team go from here?
It will probably take a generation, but perhaps there were some young children in Japan watching this game thinking 'that could be me someday.' We have seen it in Canada following the emergence of the Toronto Raptors and Steve Nash's two NBA MVPs. Nowadays, it is common to see players from Canada become NBA stars and top draft picks.
Will the same happen in Japan? Perhaps we will see in 10-to-15 years.
5. Hachimura only played 24 minutes as Japan had him on a pitch count to limit his workload. That is good news for the Wizards, who should be mindful of the fact Hachimura is about to play more games than he ever has before in his basketball career.
Playing in the NBA Summer League already put more on his plate. Now he's in the World Cup and this upcoming NBA season will play upwards of 82 games after never playing more than 37 in college. He also has the 2020 Olympics next summer.
The next calendar year is going to feature a lot of basketball for Hachimura and that will put a strain on him both physically and mentally as he adjusts to the professional ranks.
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