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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"

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Summer League allowed Wizards to experiment with Issuf Sanon's position

Summer League allowed Wizards to experiment with Issuf Sanon's position

Issuf Sanon remains very much a blank canvass as an NBA prospect. The Wizards' 2018 second-round pick is only 19 years old and still spending most of his time overseas, this past season playing professional ball in Slovenia.

So, the Wizards see the current stage of his career as an opportunity for experimentation. During Sanon's time in the Las Vegas Summer League, the Wizards toyed with him as a shooting guard despite the fact he was drafted as a point guard by trade.

Sanon spent much of his time on the floor during four Summer League games off the ball. It was an adjustment for Sanon, but one the team feels he is well-suited for due to his size at 6-foot-4.

"He's still picking up the game, still learning," Wizards Summer League head coach Robert Pack said. "I don't want to put a lot of pressure on him to be a point guard or to be an off-guard."

Sanon didn't exactly take to the new role quickly. In his four Summer League games, he averaged only 1.5 points and a rebound while shooting 18.2 percent from the field. He even missed his free throws.

But beyond the stats, the trademark aggression Sanon usually has was mostly missing. He usually runs around the court with reckless abandon, sometimes to a fault. In the 2018 Summer League he got into foul trouble too quickly and stood out for slapping the floor on defense.

Those in the Wizards' front office rave about his motor and the edge he brings to the game. He almost has too much energy and the Wizards have no qualms with that. They say it's easier to reel that in than to ask a player to ramp it up out of nowhere.

But in the shooting guard role, Sanon did not appear comfortable, at least on offense.

"[I have to focus on] cuts, baseline, back screens," Sanon said of the difference in playing as a two-guard. "Like how we do in Europe, not play 1-on-1. Small cuts, back doors and stuff like that."

Without a consistent jumper, Sanon's ceiling off the ball on offense appears low at this point. Developing a three-pointer that other teams have to respect would be crucial for him becoming a combo guard long-term.

Defensively is where it makes more sense. Sanon is better on that end of the floor and has the size to defend shooting guards. He is tall and also strong. He is not your average, lanky 19-year-old basketball player.

Sanon has the size to play physical defense and the quickness to stay in front of point guards, at least at the Summer League level.

"I like to play defense. It starts on defense. If I play good defense, I have a good game," he said.

It may be another year or several before Sanon makes the leap to the United States to play for the Wizards. When he does, expect explosive athleticism and a commitment to the defensive end. 

Whether he will arrive as a point guard or something different, though, now appears to be up in the air.

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Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has had it up to here with trade rumors about Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

Beal has been a strong vocal supporter of the Mystics and the WNBA, in general. He works closely with Kristi Toliver, who, in her offseason, works as an assistant coach for the Wizards. His closeness with the Mystics has now manifested itself in Cloud voicing her opposition to Beal being traded on Twitter.

Beal is no stranger to trade rumors. Entering his eighth season, Beal has been connected to the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, among others. Given that his name is frequently tossed around in trade talks, it should come as no surprise that the Clippers made a run at him to pair with Kawhi Leonard.

Despite the frequent and recurring rumors, Beal hasn't been traded, and very likely won't be traded. He's a star and a legitimate piece around which to build a franchise. At the summer league in Las Vegas, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes sat with Shaquille O'Neal to discuss what the Wizards should do in free agency. Shaq said that between Beal and John Wall, the Wizards are just a piece or two from breaking through.

I definitely think [the Wizards] should keep him. He's a great shooter, but if he’s a great shooter looking to go somewhere, L.A. has $32 million [in cap space]. ... He's definitely the cornerstone of this franchise. He and John Wall have always, almost always, been there. They just need another one or two guys.

It's still unlikely that Beal is playing in anything other than a Wizards uniform on opening night, but if he is, expect to hear from Cloud about it. 

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