On April 28th, 2021, Rui Hachimura had a decent game for the Washington Wizards, scoring 12 points along with a rebound and two assists. While this statline doesn’t stand out, it was one of the most significant nights of Hachimura’s career because of these two points:
This dunk landed the number two spot on the NBA’s Top Ten Plays of the Night, and showed everyone just how dangerous Hachimura can really be. Most fans may not know this unless you closely follow the Wizards or the Top 10 Plays of the Night, but Hachimura had a similar dunk earlier in the season; this time on Isaiah Stewart of the Detroit Pistons:
Hachimura’s game expands far beyond posterizing big men. While the Wizards have been riddled by injuries and COVID galore this season, Hachimura has stepped up his game. Over a ten game stretch during the end of March, Hachimura averaged 20.2 points, and 7.8 rebounds per game on 52.8% shooting from the field, 40.6% from three, and 82.6% from the free throw line. At the beginning of the season, Westbrook didn’t play back-to-backs, the Wizards canceled multiple games due to COVID-19 protocol and restrictions, and Beal was out for a short amount of time due to injury.
One of the things that makes Hachimura such a special player is his relentlessness. In his rookie season, Hachimura was blocked and dunked on multiple times by Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Davis, and Devin Booker. However, he never gave up, and kept relentlessly driving into the lane and contesting shots. While his three point shot is not yet particularly reliable (he is shooting 30% from three for his career thus far, but it’s slowly getting there), his bread and butter shot is his mid range jumper from near the free throw line. Whether it’s a pull-up, turnaround fade away, or in transition, Hachimura can make that shot nine times out of ten, over anyone.
As an example, take this possession against Giannis. Hachimura starts with the ball at the three point line, and knowing he is a bad three point shooter, Antetokounmpo gives him a little bit of space, but his hand is still near the ball. Hachimura then pump fakes, causing Giannis to move his arm. After creating a little bit of space, he drives to the left, something that it looks like Giannis was anticipating based on his feet. From there, Hachimura drives to the free throw line, then lowers his shoulder into Giannis, pushing him backwards and creating separation.
After creating the space, Hachimura shoots a falling jumper. Antetokounmpo contests the shot, but can not get his hand on the ball due to Hachimura’s elevation and space. He then nails the jumper over the two time Defensive Player of the Year.
This isn’t the only time Hachimura has done that. In that same game, Hachimura made a similar move against Khris Middleton.
Grabbing the ball outside the free throw line, Hachimura gives Middleton a few pump fakes, making Middleton think he will shoot the long two. Instead, he catches Middleton completely off guard, and while Middleton’s feet are positioned in a way that would make Hachimura think to go left like he did to Giannis earlier, he instead goes right, meaning Middleton has to take a half second to change his feet. In that half second, Hachimura drives by him, and when Middleton recovers and tries to go into the lane to contest the shot, Hachimura pulls back, and nails the uncontested free throw line jumper.
It’s safe to say that Hachimura has mastered the pull-up jumper.
However, it’s not just Hachimura’s offensive game that makes him such a special player, it’s his defense as well. Being a 6’8″ power forward, Hachimura generally ends up with the tougher defensive assignments, such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kevin Durant.
During that April 28th win over the Lakers, Hachimura held AD to 26 points. The reason I say held is that while Davis is averaging 23 points per game this season, LeBron James is out, and he is expected to carry the scoring load. With the next highest scorer being Andre Drummond, who is not known for his offensive game (because of his shot blocking and rebounding), it seems Davis has to score more than 30 points a game for the Lakers to have a real chance at winning. Even though he did his best to carry the Lakers and shot 50% from the field, Hachimura had a stretch during the third quarter where due to closely contesting his shots, Davis missed four shots in a row. It got to the point where LeBron James became so uninterested in watching his team lose he began using his phone, and walked off the court before the game had officially ended (much like the 1991 Detroit Pistons).
While his game still has a long way to go on the outside, Hachimura’s game has transitioned well into the NBA, scoring 30 points in a game this season and having many 20+ point games. Originally, when the Wizards drafted Hachimura, I had no idea who he was. I thought that the Wizards should grab Cam Reddish, who was a teammate of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett at Duke. When they didn’t, I was very frustrated, thinking they had selected a guy who would become the next Dragon Bender.
I could not have been more wrong.
The Wizards are currently on a hot streak, winning 11 of their last 13 including an eight game win streak. They were battling against the Bulls and Raptors for the 10th seed in the play-in tournament, but now hold a two game advantage over those two teams and are two games behind the Indiana Pacers, who are in the 9th seed. While Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal will lead the charge into the play-in and playoffs, the two glue guys who are holding the flaws of this team together are Daniel Gafford and Rui Hachimura.
Hachimura has been named to the All-Rookie second team and was selected into the Rising Stars Game. Do you think he will be an All-Star and member of the All-NBA in the future? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog for more posts like this, and as always, have an awesome day!