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Warriors' Steph Curry has high praise for Wizards' top pick, Rui Hachimura

Warriors' Steph Curry has high praise for Wizards' top pick, Rui Hachimura

TOKYO -- Stephen Curry is already looking ahead to the next challenge in his basketball career, including the chance to represent the United States at next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Just over a week since his Golden State Warriors lost a grueling NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, Curry was in Tokyo on Sunday talking about the Olympics and the opportunity to face Japan's newest basketball sensation. 

The U.S. has won the gold medal in the last three Olympics and will be the favorite to top the podium again in Tokyo with a Dream Team that could feature such stars as Curry, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. 

Curry decided to pull out of the Rio Olympics due to several factors, including ankle and knee injuries.

"I know the energy here is going to be amazing," Curry said. "I haven't played in the Olympics before. I've played in two World Cup teams so I've had the experience of representing my country playing for the national team. But the Olympics, from everybody that I've talked to that's played, there's no comparison to that experience."

Curry was in Tokyo for a youth basketball clinic and was asked about Rui Hachimura, who became the first player from Japan picked in the first round of the NBA draft when he was taken with the No. 9 overall pick by the rebuilding Washington Wizards on Thursday.

"It's exciting for the NBA to have representation from Japan and countries all over the world," Curry said. "It speaks to how the game of basketball is growing everywhere, especially here. For him to be a trailblazer in terms of doing something that has never been done is good for this country."

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound (2.03 meters, 106 kilogram) Hachimura averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior at U.S. college Gonzaga, where he was the West Coast Conference player of the year.

The only other Japanese player drafted in NBA history was Yasutaka Okayama, who went 171st overall in 1981. He never appeared in a regular-season game, something just two players from the country have done: Yuta Tabuse for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05, and Yuta Watanabe for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19.

The son of a Japanese mother and father from the Republic of Benin, Hachimura is the latest Japanese of mixed race to make a splash in the sporting world following the likes of Naomi Osaka and Yu Darvish.

"Just from watching him play, I know he's got good size, obviously," Curry said. "He seems to have a high basketball IQ, good touch around the rim too. I'm sure as he gets into the NBA his game will expand. I think he fits into the direction the NBA is going right now; being able to score and put pressure on the defense no matter what the situation is."

As for the Warriors, Curry said he's looking forward to winning more championships with the team.

"The story is still going," Curry said. "A lot of people said this is going to be the end but I'm not going to let that happen. It's going to be fun to come back and chase more championships next year and beyond."

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Rui Dunk Tracker: Troy Brown Jr. lobs it to Hachimura for the alley oop

Rui Dunk Tracker: Troy Brown Jr. lobs it to Hachimura for the alley oop

Rookie sensation Rui Hachimura has been an inside menace for opposing forwards early in his fledgling NBA career. That didn't change against the Orlando Magic on Sunday night. 

The first dunk came off a beautifully crafted pick and roll with Troy Brown Jr., who lobbed it up for a Hachimura alley oop. Some great chemistry from the young guys there. 

The Japanese international is averaging 13.8 ppg and 5.7 rpg through his first 10 games, shooting an efficient 50.8% from the field during that stretch. More offensive athleticism like this will do well to take a load off Bradley Beal's shoulders. Beal scored back-to-back 44-point games in a Boston loss and win against Minnesota, but will need more help from his teammates if the Wizards want to improve on their 3-7 record. He scored 13 points in the first half versus Orlando. 

The No. 9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has been a matchup headache for defenders with his combination of size and speed. Deployed at the four, he's been both too fast for bigger defenders and too strong for smaller defenders. 

Here's to hoping Hachimura dunks it again tonight!

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Wizards may have found Thomas Bryant 2.0 in Moe Wagner, another steal from the Lakers

Wizards may have found Thomas Bryant 2.0 in Moe Wagner, another steal from the Lakers

Moe Wagner has openly expressed his desire to follow the trajectory of Thomas Bryant, whom he has reunited with as a teammate now in Washington after they previously overlapped in Los Angeles.

He is a big man who can stretch the floor and plays with loads of energy. And he was a Lakers castoff now hoping to find his NBA niche in a Wizards uniform.

Through 10 games in Washington, Wagner is ahead of schedule. What he did on Friday night in Minnesota was something Bryant didn't do until months into last season, and technically it was much rarer than that.

Wagner became the first player to put up 30 points and 15 rebounds off the bench since Yao Ming in 2002 and the first in Wizards/Bullets franchise history since Cliff Robinson in 1985. No NBA player had ever dropped 30 points with 15 boards and hit four threes off the bench before in NBA history.

Wagner did this, mind you, against Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the best centers in the league. And Wagner did it all in only 25 minutes as he battled through foul trouble to make 13-of-15 shots overall and shoot a perfect 4-for-4 from three. 

He had his moments on the defensive end as well. While Towns lit up the Wizards for 25 points in the first half and for 36 in the game, 19 of those came in the second quarter when Wagner had to take a seat because of his fouls. 

Wagner's defensive style isn't pretty. Without the length or instincts to block shots, he has to scrap his way to getting stops. He uses his fouls and has a knack for drawing them.

Wagner took three charges in Friday's game and now has 10 on the season, which leads the NBA. Last year, Bradley Beal and Jeff Green led the Wizards with 12 for the entire year.

Charges generally aren't utilized in the NBA because they are very difficult to achieve. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks led the entire league with 0.84 per game. Though Wagner is averaging one per game himself this year, that pace will be difficult to sustain. Last season, Ersan Ilyasove led the league with 0.73 charges drawn per game and DeMarcus Cousins was No. 1 with 0.5 per game the year before. 

But there are players for whom charges are a defensive weapon. Ilyasova and Cousins are always near the top of the league in the category and so is Blake Griffin. Shane Battier might be the most famous charge-taker of all-time. Maybe Wagner can be next.

Taking charges, though, are just one of the ways Wagner is using his energy and effort to affect games for the Wizards. After Wednesday's win over the Timberwolves, he is second on the Wizards in deflections, second in contested shots and second in screen assists; all hustle stats. And his net rating is best on the team and fourth-highest in the NBA. 

Wagner is so far proving to be a diamond in the rough, just like Bryant was last year. Keep in mind the Wizards got him in a salary-dump trade from the Lakers that also gave them Isaac Bonga and a second-round pick. All the Wizards gave up was cash considerations, which they used to be famous for coveting.

All of this makes it fair to wonder if the Wizards can do it again. They got Bryant from the Lakers and then Wagner.

So, who is the back-up center currently on L.A. they can poach next summer?

Well, technically that would be either Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee, so maybe not. But the Wizards already fooled the Lakers once and it looks like they did it again.