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In his eighth career game on Friday, Wizards rookie forward Rui Hachimura became the fastest Wizards player to score 100 career points (by games played) since John Wall in 2010. Through those eight games and en route to those 100 points, Hachimura has managed to outshine the spotlight shone on him from local and international media, a hungry D.C. fanbase, and the rapt attention of an entire nation over six thousand miles away.
“(Rui is) exactly what the NBA is about,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “You work hard, you dream big and you’ve got an opportunity. With his skillset, he’s only going to get better…Rui is right there with all (the great players) I have ever coached. He’s well-respected amongst his peers and his opponents know what he’s about.”
In June, Hachimura became the first-ever Japanese-born player to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft when the Wizards selected him with the ninth overall pick. Hachimura, who helped lead Gonzaga to a 93-9 (.830) overall record in his three collegiate seasons, is averaging 13.6 points on 49.0% shooting to go along with 6.1 rebounds per game in his eight games with the Wizards.
The environment that follows Hachimura off the court – screaming fans holding “I traveled X-number of miles to see you” signs and media scrums that rival that of some of the NBA’s most tenured superstars – is chaotic. The rookie’s temperament, however, remains calm, and his on-court performance follows suit.
“He’s even-keeled,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said following Washington’s game against the Cavaliers last week. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. I think even an outside person can figure that out about him. He’s very poised for a one-year guy. It’s amazing to see his growth.”
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from Hachimura’s first eight games is his ability to make difficult, veteran basketball plays look comfortable and routine. Transition ball-handling off defensive rebounds, crafty passing and an arsenal of moves to get himself unstuck from tricky situations within 15 feet of the basket have defined his early-season success. Package those elements with his ability to consistently hit from midrange (59.2% on 27 shots between 10-19 feet) and flashes of 3-point shooting, including a 3-3 performance against Houston, and the foundation of versatile arsenal of offensive skills begins to take shape. An arsenal that can be molded and adjusted minute-by-minute and game-by-game to attack any defense’s weaknesses.
Through the highs, Hachimura has also seen his share of struggles, including an 0-5 shooting night against the Pacers last week. As a rookie, performances of that sort are part of the development process. Not allowing them to snowball into multi-game slumps is what front offices and coaches look for in their young players.
Hachimura did just that, answering with arguably his best game of the season, scoring 21 points on 10-13 (.769) shooting against Cleveland, hitting his first seven shot attempts and 10 of his first 11, to go along with seven rebounds. The game was his second 20-point performance of the season and his fourth with 15-or-more points.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Brooks said. “He is pretty wise and mature for his age, but he’s still seeing players for the first time, teams for the first time and opposing arenas for the first time…It’s going to take some time, but I give him a lot of credit – he seems to be able to manage all that and the demands that he has being an NBA player for the first time.”
The big-picture improvements will come with experience. In the meantime, his development will be judged by his ability keep his energy up and continue to round out the different elements of his game. Hachimura has proven himself to be a reliable ball-handler and capable playmaker, dishing out three-plus assists in three games this season.
One sequence in particular, late in the first half of Friday’s game against Cleveland, highlighted the diversity of Hachimura’s skillset. Hachimura opens the run by hitting a midrange pull-up jumper off a left-handed dribble, then, after a defensive stop and a pair of transition passes from Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant, finishes a right-hand, up-and-under layup. Under a minute later Hachimura grabs a defensive rebound and, takes the ball the length of the court and finishes strong off the glass over two Cleveland defenders. Finally, with less than 30 seconds left in the half, Hachimura grabs an offensive rebound off a Thomas Bryant miss and pulls up from 20 feet and cashes in.
See the full sequence below:
By season’s end, the significance of Hachimura’s hot start, in relation to his career as whole, will be minimal. It will be as much a blip on the radar as any of the next 10 eight-game stretches he faces this year. But you only get one chance to make a first impression – and through his first couple weeks, Hachimura has thus far proven to be just about everything Wizards fans could have asked for.