After missing 23 games with a groin injury, Wizards forward Rui Hachimura returned last week and hasn’t skipped a beat.
Hachimura was one of the top rookies early in the season, averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while starting the first 25 games. He was a fixture on the Rookie Ladder, and seemed like a serious contender for Kia Rookie of the Year.
But a fluke injury, suffered when he was accidentally kicked by teammate Isaac Bonga, derailed those plans. Initially it appeared Hachimura would only miss a few weeks, but the Wizards played it safe with the No. 9 pick of the 2019 draft, holding him out the second half of December and all of January.
In the five games since returning, Hachimura has averaged 13.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg in 26.9 mpg on 51.9% shooting (and 42.9% on 3-pointers).
"I had never been away from basketball like this,” Hachimura told NBC Sports Washington. “But also I had never watched film or games like this. So, that's why it helped. I watched a lot of games, like two or three games a day. I was imagining how I would play when I get back. That's why it's helping right now."
The Wizards are, surprisingly, still in the playoff chase in the East, so Hachimura’s return is a welcome sight. In his absence, Washington was 9-14 but have gone 3-2 since he returned to climb within three games of the No. 8 spot.
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1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
With Zion Williamson nipping at his heels, all Morant did was record his first career triple-double this week. In a 106-99 win against the Wizards, Morant had 27 points (his second-best output of the season), 10 rebounds and 10 assists. And Morant -- who is sixth among all players in 4th quarter scoring -- did it in typical Morant fashion, taking over in the fourth quarter. Morant scored 10 and grabbed seven rebounds in the quarter, completely taking over the game. ''That guy is young, but he plays like a five-year All-Star,'' Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. ''He just controls the game. ... He's a problem.''
2. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Another week, another historic performance from Zion. In scoring 31 points with nine rebounds and five assists in the Pelicans’ 138-117 win over Portland, Zion put himself in exclusive company. He became the only rookie with 30-5-5 in fewer than 30 minutes and got his first 30-point game faster than any No. 1 pick since Allen Iverson did it in his debut in 1996. Every week, we’re seeing more tidbits about Zion’s feats from Elias Sports Bureau, and if he continues to grow at this rate, the accolades will only continue.
"I mean, he's only gonna get better," Lonzo Ball said of his teammate. "He's 19. Came in midseason. I feel like he's still not in the shape he can be in. It's kinda scary thinking about what he can do in the future, but we'll take 31 every night." Jrue Holiday said it even more succinctly: "Honestly, man, I don't see anyone that can guard him."
3. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Last week: Not ranked
Like Zion Williamson, Hachimura’s case for Rookie of the Year took a hit with his prolonged absence due to injury. Still, if Hachimura can help the Wizards make a run at the playoffs (they’re currently 9th in the East, just three games behind the Magic), and frontrunner Morant misses any time, he’s got an outside shot. Among rookies, Hachimura ranks 3rd in scoring (13.9), first in rebounding (6.0) and fifth in FG% (48.7).
4. Kevin Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week, I gave Darius Garland the fifth spot, but considered giving it to both of the Cavs’ rookies in a 5a/5b situation since they’ve both been playing so well lately. This week, I’ll give the spot to Porter, who has been one of the bright spots in the Cavs’ dismal season with his increased playing time. The No. 30 pick out of USC has scored in double-digits in his last seven games, and he’s scoring with efficiency. In that seven-game span, Porter is averaging 16.1 ppg on 51.9% shooting, hitting 50% of his 3-pointers.
5. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Is Kendrick Nunn hitting a wall as the All-Star break arrives? Since missing three games in January with Achilles soreness, Nunn has seen his numbers drop dramatically. In four games this week, the surprising guard has averaged 10.3 ppg in 27.6 mpg, but he’s been atrocious with his shot, hitting 25.8% overall (17-for-66) and 15.4% (4-for-26) from 3-point land. Nunn’s shooting slump coincides with a tough stretch for the Heat, who went 1-4 on a five-game road trip to close out their first half.
Just missed the cut:
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Last 3 games (2-1 record): 15.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.0 spg, 64.5% FG; Career-high-tying 27 points (12-14 FG) in Wednesday’s 111-104 win over Trail Blazers
De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Last 4 games (1-3 record): 11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 spg, 37.2% FG, 42.9% 3FG
Nicolo Melli, New Orleans Pelicans
Last 3 games (3-0 record): 10.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 46.2% FG, 41.2% 3FG
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
Last 2 games (0-2 record): 13.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 42.1% FG, 50% 3FG
Coby White, Chicago Bulls
Last 3 games (0-3 record): 11.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.4 apg
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(All stats through Wednesday, Feb. 12)
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