Should Hachimura be starting? Unseld Jr. weighs in


Each game for Rui Hachimura these days seems to follow a similar pattern. He comes off the bench late in the first quarter and quickly knocks down a few threes. He reaches double-figures in scoring, and efficiently, only to have his night end after 15 to 25 minutes of game time.

Hachimura had another of those rubber stamp games against the Warriors on Monday, with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 2-of-2 from three in 23 minutes. Five of his teammates played more.

Hachimura, 24, is regularly performing like one of the Wizards' best players, yet his minutes aren't increasing and he remains on the bench. It's a situation that has naturally led to some questions for head coach Wes Unseld Jr.

On Monday, it was a reporter asking all the way from Japan via Zoom: will Hachimura be in the starting lineup soon?

"I think everything's on the table. I like him where he is right now. But as he progresses, we'll see," Unseld Jr. said.

"I think he's done a lot of good things. I know he missed a chunk of games early, so we were playing catch-up in the meat of the season, but where he is now to where he was a month-and-a-half or two months ago, it's night-and-day. He's playing with confidence, he's shooting the ball at a high clip. He's got a pretty good feel for how we play and how we space. So, I just want to continue to see him grow."


Perhaps the most noteworthy part was that Unseld Jr. likes where Hachimura "is right now." That seems to mean Hachimura is staying on the bench for the time being and, with only 15 games left on their schedule, there isn't much time left.

Hachimura, though, is doing his part. He's now averaging 9.9 points on 7.6 shot attempts per game, shooting 49.5% from the field and a team-best 52.2% from three. Monday was his 14th straight game making at least one three, the longest streak of the season for any Wizards player.

"I think he's shooting with a lot of confidence. I told him before, just be decisive," Unseld Jr. said. "If that ball finds you in rhythm, shoot it. If you're within the confines of our offense, by all means. The biggest thing for him is to continue to make quick decisions. Attack liveball closeouts or shoot it, or get off of it and find the next action. But I think he's done a terrific job of that."

Hachimura is averaging 19.4 minutes per game, but he packs a punch. He's scoring 18.4 points per-36 minutes while holding a 58.1 effective field goal percentage, which factors in that threes count more than twos. Only Daniel Gafford and Anthony Gill have been better among current Wizards players.

It's an interesting situation if you consider the fact Hachimura never came off the bench once in his first two seasons in the league. He's been playing in the second unit since he returned midway through this season after sitting out for personal reasons. It's partly because they wanted to work him in slowly and partly because they now have established veterans at the forward position in Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who are worthy starters having good years.

So, as long as Hachimura is playing well in the role that he's in, and those guys are doing their part, Unseld Jr. doesn't see a need to make a change. That is despite the Wizards having lost seven of their last nine games.

Whether he's starting or not, Hachimura has made a good case for himself to play more minutes and to have a larger role. With 15 games left, perhaps Unseld Jr. will arrive at that decision at some point.