WASHINGTON -- Chauncey Billups set the bar high for Rui Hachimura.
Moments after the Wizards selected the Gonzaga forward ninth overall during Thursday’s NBA Draft, Billups, an ESPN television analyst, uttered the name Kawhi Leonard during the Hachimura analysis.
Tommy Sheppard rather wished he hadn’t.
“You know, Chauncey is my guy. He didn’t need to do that to the kid,” the smiling Wizards interim general manager joked with reporters during a press conference steps away from the team’s practice court.
Comparing a 21-year-old junior forward from Gonzaga and the first native of Japan selected in the first round to the two-time NBA Finals MVP certainly is not fair. That's true for the rookie, the hopeful fan base and the organization trying to add pieces for its currently shorthanded roster.
Yet the upbeat Sheppard found a tangible angle within the random comment about the two powerfully built 6-foot-8, 230-pound forwards.
“I see the comparisons in terms of their measurements,” Sheppard during his first public comments in his current role.
For now, the Wizards believe they added a needed component for their frontcourt and defense by taking a player whispered as a potential target for several weeks.
Hachimura led Gonzaga with 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season. Not a volume perimeter shooter, he knocked down 41.7 percent on his 3-point attempts and has the ability to create fast break opportunities after rebounds.
“We knew it was going to be him,” Sheppard said of selecting Gonzaga’s leading scorer at nine despite the presence of other prospects including Duke’s Cam Reddish and France’s Sekou Doumbouya. “It was very close with a couple of players, but where he’s at, his potential and trajectory we felt great about [the pick].”
The chiseled Hachimura possesses a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a level of mobility Sheppard believes will provide a boost to a Wizards defense that struggled defensively during a trying 32-50 season.
“I think I can play defense. Both sides, defense and offense,” Hachimura told reporters in Brooklyn, site of the 2019 NBA Draft. “I think I can impact the game. I can get rebounds and push the ball. I can shoot. I can pass. I think I can help the team a lot.”
He is not the only one.
“[Rui is] somebody we watched for the last couple of years,” said Sheppard, who travels the world scouting talent as much as any front executive in the league.
“He’s a late bloomer,” Sheppard continued. “We think has potential to be a tremendous two-way player. I think the potential for him to be several things that we need defensively, offensively, the fact that he’s a late bloomer – I’m going to keep saying that. Rui is intriguing to us and he’s a fantastic person.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks comes into the pre-draft process late because of his day job. After receiving the needed 411 and watching game film, he approved of this direction.
“We’re happy, we’re happy,” Brooks said of Washington taking Hachimura.
That Hachimura brings more experience than most other prospects in the one-and-done should provide the head coach with a new toy ready for use immediately. The Wizards’ pre-draft roster did not include any forwards.
“He’s ready to play next year,” Sheppard said. “I don’t think there is going to be remedial teaching that has to happen.”
There will be plenty of tutoring regardless. Knocks typically involve his limited feel for the game. Hachimura struggles to find open teammates with the pass and puts his head down driving to the lane.
One rival front executive texted NBC Sports Washington after the selection described Hachimura as a rotation player more than a starter because he’s “not big enough to start at the 4 and not skilled enough at (the) 3."
Yet others around the league expressed a fondness for Hachimura pre-draft to NBCSW. Clearly, the Wizards agree. Just slow the roll on those Kawhi Leonard comparisons for now.
“I think Kawhi has his own path and certainly Rui will have his own,” Sheppard said. “They are both quiet about their business. They’re not big showboats. They let the game do the talking and if that’s the comparison, I’ll take that every day.”
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