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2019 NBA Draft Profile: Japan’s own Rui Hachimura looks to make history on draft night

Hachimura will become the first Japanese first round pick in NBA history.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As a four-star recruit, Rui Hachimura moved pretty far from home for college. Gonzaga is just over 5,000 miles away from Hachimura’s hometown of Toyama, Japan, and he arrived in Spokane with a limited English vocabulary. While he understood most of the language, he was nowhere close to being fluent, and many wondered how the language barrier would effect his first-year at Gonzaga. In the end, Hachimura was able to meet the GPA and SAT requirements and played as a true freshman for the Bulldogs, despite missing practices for English as a second language courses.

In case you were curious, here’s a little visual aid I made in Google Earth to show just how far Rui came for college:

It is incredibly important to understand Rui Hachimura’s background when viewing him as an NBA Draft prospect. This is someone who did not play on the AAU circuit like the majority of rising talent in America and did not have access to American coaching until 18 and even then, he could hardly communicate with Mark Few and his staff. He is still a fairly raw player who needs particular tuneups to his game to survive in the NBA, however his track record of quick development is a positive sign for NBA teams considering the 6’8 forward.

Let’s get physical

Hachimura declined his invitation to the NBA Draft Combine, which makes sense considering NBA teams already have a fairly comprehensive understanding of his measurements, and him as a prospect. But for those at home wondering, the consensus measurements for him seem to be a height of 6’8, wingspan of 7’1.5, and a weight of 234 pounds.

Rui’s measurements show an NBA-ready body, and if you were curious how he stacks up against older competition here are his top plays from the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers in the Summer of 2018. Hachimura strung together some excellent performances against some more physical competition than he was used to in the WCC.

What’s to like

As mentioned earlier, despite multiple obstacles, Hachimura developed quickly over the course of his Gonzaga career. He showed notable improvements in his points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage in each of his three college seasons.

Rui Hachimura’s Improvement at Gonzaga

2016-2017 2.6 1.4 0.1 52.80%
2017-2018 11.6 4.7 0.5 56.80%
2018-2019 19.7 6.5 0.9 59.10%
stats via

One of the ways Hachimura went about scoring 19.7 points per game was his mid-range game. He creates space for himself with a strong inside pivot where he rips the ball through across his chest then takes it to the rim, or combination moves filled with pump fakes and hesitation moves that create just enough space for him to knock down mid-range jumpers fairly consistently.

Another prong in Rui’s scoring attack is his prowess in transition. He is an impressive ballhandler and can also find an efficient route to an open spot off-ball in the fastbreak, similar to how Google maps finds the nearest Whole Foods to my house. When Hachimura finds a spot in the low-post, either in the half-court or in transition, he excels at getting the defender on his hip, using his nice hands to catch weird-angle post-entry passes, and then finishing at the rim. This is a move that could bode well for him in the NBA against switch-heavy defenses that create mismatches in the posts.

On defense, Rui does leave quite a bit to be desired. However, when engaged, he has shown himself to be an adept on-ball defender. All the tools are there for him to succeed on defense, it’s just a matter of putting them all together.

What’s to dislike

My memories of watching Rui throughout his Gonzaga career consist of strong drives and finishes at the rim. However, the first game I went back to watch film on for this draft profile was the Zags matchup against Tennessee at the Jerry Colangelo Classic last September. Rui would finish three-for-seven at the rim (this was also his worst performance of the season at the rim) and consistently looked outmatched in terms of strength in the post. This leads to a questionable ability to finish at the rim against high-level talent. Hachimura dominated the WCC, and played well against Duke, which didn’t really have a scheme, just a 2-3 zone with a bunch of switches creating easy looks at the rim. In addition to struggling at the rim against Tennessee, he also had trouble in big games like on the road at North Carolina, Saint Mary’s in the WCC Championship and Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

A common trend I noticed with Hachimura in 2018-2019 was how despite how far his development has come and how talented he is, he often looked timid. Particularly, on defense. He certainly can be a good on-ball defender at times, but he is only an average to above-average athlete who is still fairly inconsistent on defense. Hachimura frequently finds himself out of position, not just within in the defensive gameplan when he loses track of his assignment, but physically. His defensive stance can be unimposing as he slouches down and doesn’t look as ready to pounce as his teammate Brandon Clarke.

Some of Hachimura’s averages don’t quite tell the whole story. Rui shot three’s at a good clip (41.7% his junior year) but he did so on just one attempt per game. Granted, the Zags didn’t need Rui to be a volume shooter, but his ability behind the three-point line is still fairly questionable at this stage of his career. One noticeable issue with his shot is that the arc on his jumper is fairly flat, but this is a common occurrence for many pro players and one that is easily fixed. Additionally, Hachimura averaged 6.5 rebounds per game in his final season, but he isn’t exactly a “good” rebounder. He tends to pick up his rebounds like how a point guard crashes just to get the ball in their hands and push the tempo. Hachimura sometimes fails to box out opponents on defense leading to second-chance opportunities.

While we here at Mid-Major Madness think mid-major basketball is the best kind of basketball, the elitist NBA front offices may not agree and will take Hachimura’s performances against major Quadrant One (Q1) programs with much more weight. Unfortunately with a few exceptions (including one big one against Duke, who again had the same defensive scheme as my high school freshman team) Rui didn’t perform at the same level against Q1 teams as he would have hoped. His effective field goal percentage (eFG%) dropped below his season average of 60.8 percent in the majority of his matchups against higher level competition leading to a 52.0 percent effective field goal percentage in Q1 games.

Similar to his effective field goal percentage, Hachimura’s offensive rating consistently dipped below his season average of 124.9 in Q1 Games in 2018-2019 where his offensive rating was 109.9.

Shades of…

A right-handed Thaddeus Young

Young was hailed as a fluid athlete who was very intelligent off the court, but was still raw and struggled shooting outside of the mid-range coming out of Georgia Tech. Young developed into an excellent secondary and tertiary scoring option while providing pretty good defense on many playoff teams. He has been an underrated piece and leader for the Indiana Pacers for the past few seasons. With the right coaching, it is very possible we see Hachimura continue on to have a similar career and role to the one Young has provided.

Moe Harkless

Maurice or “Moe” Harkless was a smooth athlete with a similar height and wingspan to Hachimura coming out of Saint John’s. One of the biggest criticisms of Harkless was his lack of a three-point shot, Harkless has turned himself into somewhat of a respectable three-point shooter who defenders certainly need to respect on the perimeter. He’s also enjoyed a frequent starting role with the playoff-contending Portland Trailblazers. Harkless is the player Rui could be should he improve his three-point shot just a little bit.

What to expect

It is possible Rui finds himself picked within in the lottery on draft night. However, it is appearing more and more likely he slips out of the lottery, but falls no further than the 20th pick. The ideal fits for Hachimura include the Indiana Pacers, who have the 18th overall pick. Here he can benefit from Young’s presence should the unrestricted free agent elect to stay with the franchise. Another appealing scenario is going 19th, which would send Hachimura to player development heaven, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have developed international stars such as Manu Ginobolli and Tony Parker in addition to mid-major superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Wherever Hachimura goes, expect well... the expected. He will most likely have an “average” rookie season that includes highs and lows similar to those of Jonathon Isaac’s (when he was healthy) rookie year with the Orlando Magic or Justin Jackson, another three-year wing prospect, and his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings in 2017-2018. One worry for Rui is if he can get his defense up to a level that allows him to stay on the floor. Assuming Rui is drafted in the mid-first round, he will most likely find himself on a team vying for a playoff spot, and if his coach sees him as liability on the defensive end he’ll find himself on the bench. It probably won’t be a season filled with accolades, unless Rui exceeds expectations and the rest of the draft class underperforms don’t expect to see him on either of the All-Rookie teams at the end of the 2020 season.

But, no one judges NBA players based exclusively off their first season, or even their first couple of seasons. Hachimura has a tremendous work ethic and has shown an ability to develop and learn new parts of the game very quickly, a skill that is critical in the NBA. If Hachimura develops a consistent outside shot with better arc and receives high-level coaching that helps his awareness and confidence on the floor, it is entirely reasonable to with his track record to see Hachimura developing into a starter in the NBA