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Rui Hachimura mania is a real thing in Japan and may be just starting in Washington

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Rui Hachimura mania is a real thing in Japan and may be just starting in Washington

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards drafted a superstar on Thursday night.

Whether Rui Hachimura will ever reach the definition of that label as a basketball is unclear, but he has already achieved stardom when it comes to worldwide fame and intrigue. As the first ever Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA, Hachimura has a rabid following that rivals anyone in his draft class, including Zion Williamson.

Hachimura's magnetism was on display Friday afternoon on the fourth floor of Capital One Arena, as the Wizards introduced him less than 24 hours after making him the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft. There were over 40 members of the Japanese media in attendance from over 20 outlets, all jockeying for position to film his every step.

They tracked him in the days leading up to the draft in New York, then travelled down to Washington for his introductory press conference. Not even John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, rolled that deep.

For Hachimura, who hails from Gonzaga University by way of Toyama, Japan, it wasn't anything new. He has been hailed as the next great athlete from his country for years and media attention has become part of his everyday life.

"I'm used to it. This is kind of small," he joked. "When I was in Japan, there were couple of press conferences like this and there were more people."

Not all Japanese athletes get a media contingent like Hachimura does. Sports fans in his country believe he is the type of special talent that could inspire a generation of basketball players.

"There is a crazy fever right now," Go Sudo of the Fuji News Network said. "He has a chance to be as big as Ichiro [Suzuki]."

Hachimura was flanked at his press conference by head coach Scott Brooks and Wizards senior VP Tommy Sheppard, both of which were beaming as they listened to a 21-year-old man they believe has the playing style and character to fit in well with their program. 

They can only hope Hachimura proves as good a fit with their team as he is with the city he will play in. Washington, D.C. has one of the largest Japanese populations in the United States. The Embassy of Japan is only 2 1/2 miles away from Capital One Arena. 

Hachimura said he is ready to embrace the Japanese culture already present in Washington.

"I heard about the cherry blossoms. That's like a Japanese thing. I actually want to go see it," he said. 

"I've heard there are a lot of Japanese people here and I'm so excited to meet those people. And there are good Japanese restaurants, right? I want to try them."

Hachimura is already a big enough global star that he could be one of the most marketable players on the team. Without playing his first NBA game, Hachimura has already picked up a collection of sponsorships including Jordan brand shoes and Nissin, the maker of Cup of Noodles.

That could be only the beginning. The Wizards have already received numerous inquiries from global brands since Hachimura was drafted.

Hachimura has the chance to become a trailblazer for Japanese basketball. His origin story reflects just how unusual his road has been.

Hachimura grew up playing baseball, much like many kids do in Japan, especially since Ichiro's run of MLB stardom. At 13, he tried basketball for the first time and initially didn't see it as a realistic path.

"I went to a practice and I actually didn't want to play basketball, but one of my teammates and classmates, he was annoying me. He wanted me to play basketball," Hachimura said. 

"He would come up to me every morning like 'let's play basketball... Then, in junior high, my coach pointed to me and said 'you're going to the NBA.' I had no idea what the NBA was. But I believed in him and said 'yeah, let's do it.'"

"I'm glad he made a stupid decision," Brooks joked.

From there, Hachimura studied YouTube clips of Carmelo Anthony and worked on his game enough to earn a spot for Mark Few's team at Gonzaga University. Basketball brought him to the United States, whether he was ready for it or not.

"My first year in college was really hard for me. I really had no English. I had no idea about the culture. The culture here is very different. I'm black, but I'm like totally Japanese. I have a Japanese soul. It was really hard to adjust and be around the American people."

Hachimura now hopes both the Wizards and the city of Washington prove a good match for him. Like all draft picks, he offers no guarantees. But the potential for something special both on and off the court certainly seems to be there.

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Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal snubbed in NBA 2K20 ratings

Bradley Beal has been snubbed yet again.

First All-NBA, now Beal was not even included in the NBA 2K20 top 20 rankings, which were released on a livestream on Monday.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard topped the rankings, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and James Harden. 

In what we're sure was a completely scientific poll, SLAM Gaming asked its followers if NBA2K got the rankings right. And, at least as of post time, nearly two-thirds of participants said no. 

Ahead of Beal in the rankings included Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler. Zion Williamson was the top rookie in the ratings. 

Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game last season. That's clear above Mitchell (23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and Butler (18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists per game).

The ratings are reportedly determined by a statistically based formula, though that hasn't ever stopped fans from expressing their ire at the game's rating gurus. 

Including John Wall in 2017. 


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Wizards Summer League superlatives: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. were the stars

Wizards Summer League superlatives: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. were the stars

The 2019 Las Vegas Summer League is in the books and this one was much more interesting for the Wizards than they have been in recent years. This year, they had a host of first and second-round picks play for them, as well as some players they recently acquired in their trade with the Lakers.

Here are some superlatives to put a bow on the Wizards' time in Vegas...

Best player: Troy Brown Jr.

Though he only played one game and one quarter before he was shut down with a left knee contusion, Brown was quite clearly the best player on the Wizards' Summer League roster. In his only full game, he put up 18 points and 15 rebounds. Though he only shot 40.6 percent in his brief time in Vegas, he looked like a guy who was advanced beyond the league's level of competition.

For Brown, the question is how much it matters because he essentially did what he should do as a second-year player. It is encouraging and he should draw confidence from the experience. But now he has to show he can produce like that in real NBA games.

Best newcomer: Rui Hachimura

Hachimura only played three of the Wizards' five games and in his first two outings produced uneven results. But his third game was pure dominance, as he posted 25 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He proved a quick learner by adjusting and improving game-by-game.

All in all, it was a solid start to Hachimura's career. He displayed versatility and smarts both on offense and defense. It should give Wizards fan hope he can contribute as a rookie.

Most improved: Isaac Bonga

Many of the players on the Wizards' roster were not returning from last summer, but Bonga showed a nice leap year-over-year from what he did for the Lakers in 2018. Though he wasn't one of the Wizards' best players, he ended up with solid numbers of 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot 45.5 percent from the field in 20.2 minutes of action.

The best thing Bonga showed for the Wizards is his athleticism. He is a full 6-foot-9, yet has the mobility of a guard. He is a long ways away from being NBA-ready, but at 19 years old gives the Wizards an intriguing prospect to stash in the G-League.

Needs improvement: Issuf Sanon, Moe Wagner, Admiral Schofield

It wasn't the best Summer League showing for Sanon, the Wizards' 2018 second-round pick. He only played a total of 48 minutes in four games and shot 18.2 percent with 1.5 points per game. The Wizards were experimenting with his position, playing him both at point and off the ball, and he didn't look comfortable doing either.

Granted, Sanon's biggest strength at this point is his defense, but he doesn't seem to have any NBA-ready offensive skills. Unless he gets up to speed quickly, he will have to become really, really good on defense to make the leap overseas.

Like Bonga, Wagner debuted after coming over in the Lakers trade. But Wagner didn't have the best time in Las Vegas, as he shot just 31 percent from the field and 7.1 percent from three. It was a small sample size of just four games, but Wagner is known as a shooter and didn't look like one in the Summer League. He also had trouble on defense against quicker match-ups.

Schofield, the Wizards' 2019 second-round pick, shot poorly (38.5 FG%, 22.2 3PT%) and struggled to find his role on defense. He has some intriguing qualities, but it might take him some time to figure out how to compete against NBA athletes while lacking height and quickness to play the way he did in college.

Biggest surprise: Jemerrio Jones

Perhaps this should not be surprising because it is what Jones is known for, but his rebounding really stood out. He played only about 27 minutes in three games, yet pulled in 13 boards. That breaks out to 4.3 rebounds in 8.9 minutes per game, or about one rebound every other minute. He averaged 17.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Keep in mind he is only 6-foot-5. Based on efficiency, Jones was the Wizards' best rebounder and he is the size of a shooting guard. He has a lot to improve on before he can stick around in the NBA, but it will be fun watching him grab 15-plus boards on the regular this season with the Go-Go. 

Biggest disappointment: Wizards' opponents

If there was one prevailing theme in the 2019 Summer League it was teams holding out their top draft picks either due to actual injuries or the fear they will suffer one. The Wizards saw this firsthand. They even did it themselves by keeping Hachimura out of two of their games.

The Wizards played the Pelicans without first overall pick Zion Williamson or Jaxson Hayes, the eighth pick, or even Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the 17th pick. They played the Hawks without De'Andre Hunter (fourth pick) or Cam Reddish (10th pick). And the Nets and Clippers didn't have any top draft picks of note.

The Wizards did get to see third overall pick R.J. Barrett and the Knicks in their final game. New York also had Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, as well as Iggy Brazdeikis, who was a Summer League standout. But neither Hachimura or Brown played in that game for Washington.