Wizards

Wizards see Olympics as important time for Hachimura

Wizards

Rui Hachimura improved more this past season than his scoring average would suggest. After scoring 13.5 points per game as a rookie, he upped that by only 0.3, to 13.8 points per game as a sophomore. But he did so more efficiently despite having to navigate a deeper Wizards rotation and despite having to share the floor with Russell Westbrook, who like him also favors the midrange.

Hachimura made strides on defense as well, at times standing out as the Wizards' most versatile defender. He had success with difficult matchups like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. He showed more potential on that end than many predraft evaluations had given him credit for.

Now Hachimura will enter his second offseason as an NBA player, hoping to build on that and set himself up for a big Year 3. This summer will include him playing for Team Japan in the Tokyo Olympics. He will be the best player for the host country as they face the world's top teams. There will also be a ton of media attention.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard sees that as a unique experience in Hachimura's development.

"That’s a great opportunity. A huge stage, a whole different ball of wax for him pressure-wise to have the world watching and to play against some of the best teams in the world. That’s great experience for him," Sheppard said. 

"It’s great experience to have him play in five playoff games... When guys get a taste of that, now they have that. Their first experience is now over. They can take that into the summer and really focus on what they need to do to get better."

 

Hachimura played in the FIBA World Cup back in 2019 and got to go up against Turkey, the Czech Republic and the United States, which wasn't as stacked as usual but did have some stars like Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker. Through those three games, Hachimura averaged 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, almost identical to his NBA career averages of 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. If anything, he's consistent.

But what Sheppard wants to see is Hachimura more often producing at the high level he's shown he's capable of. This season, he scored 20 or more points 11 times, but also fell short of double-digits 14 times. His three-point percentage went up this season, from 28.7% as a rookie to 32.8%, but is still not a strength.

There were also the different versions the Wizards saw of Hachimura defensively. While he played well against Durant, he had trouble against Tobias Harris in the first round of the playoffs before they switched him onto Ben Simmons.

"I think in Rui’s case, he’s shown a lot. He’s shown a lot of progress. But you’ve gotta be able to do it every single night in the NBA to truly get the respect of your peers. That’s something that he’s working towards," Sheppard said. 

"He missed a good chunk of games this year, he missed a good chunk of games last year. He still hasn’t seen an 82-game schedule yet. So, he’s got another surprise for him ahead for him next year."

Sheppard continued on that last point to say Hachimura can train his body to help prevent injuries in the future. Hachimura has played in 105 of a possible 144 games so far in his NBA career, as both of his first two seasons were shortened due to the coronavirus. That means he's missed 27.1% of the Wizards' games since he was drafted.

It's worth noting, however, that he's missed time mostly due to non-basketball injuries. He's had a slew of bad luck involving contracting the coronavirus, conjunctivitis in both of his eyes and getting inadvertently kicked in the groin by a teammate.

Hachimura, though, is healthy going into the offseason and should have an opportunity to make another leap going into his third season. His trajectory is very important to the Wizards' future, as he presents upside on a rookie contract. They need him to continue to ascend so they can improve as a team while the large contracts of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal squeeze the salary cap.

"That’s what we just discussed in the locker room. We’ll know in the winter what you did in the summer. We expect everybody to get better this summer," Sheppard said. 

 

"We’re going to be supervising certainly, but it’s up to the players who ultimately decide how they come back next season. Show your teammates that you care enough to go out to become a much better player than when you left."