Rui Hachimura discovers new facets of his game after a prolonged absence | SWX right now


LOS ANGELES – In his third season with the Washington Wizards, Rui Hachimura remains one of the quietest players on the roster. The former Gonzaga star stoically watches games when he’s not playing, immersing himself in the action from his spot near the end of the bench. He withers in the middle of long press conferences, as if his body physically rejects the idea of ​​revealing his personal thoughts. When asked after practice last week about a particularly happy moment on the court, Hachimura replied, “It’s a very natural thing for me, having fun, playing basketball.” Kawhi Leonard couldn’t reach such a flat affect.

While Hachimura’s shy nature is a more natural disposition and less of an indication of his happiness, it does bring out moments like the one after the wizarding shoot at UCLA on Wednesday.

Hours before Washington’s game against the Clippers, the forward sat next to bubbly Anthony Gill, who grabbed Kyle Kuzma’s jewel-encrusted sunglasses as a gag. Hachimura caught Kuzma’s attention while Gill mugged him for a selfie. Kuzma recognized the pair with a wry smile, like an older brother soothing a pair of middle schoolers. Hachimura and Gill, appropriately, dissolved into laughter.

Twenty-three games into the most fractured season of Hachimura’s young career, here’s a portrait of the third-year pro: relaxed, happy, confident around his teammates (at least without cameras nearby). In return, the Wizards ended up with a surprise three-point shooting machine — at least temporarily — that Wes Unseld Jr. says is still part of the franchise’s long-term vision. Washington has always wanted Hachimura to be a dynamic offensive threat with the physical ability and savvy to guard all five defensive positions.

The Wizards have made Hachimura’s confidence a priority since he informed the team that he needed a sanity break at the start of the season. They had his confidence in mind when they allowed him to slowly ramp up before his return; this remains a priority for Unseld as the coach is yet to reveal the 24-year-old’s full playbook. Wizards attempt to groom Hachimura for success.

Their plan pays dividends from the 3-point line.

Coming off the bench for the first time in his career, the former first-round pick is shooting 50.8% from beyond the arc while shooting about the same volume as last season, 2.3 attempts per match. His 3s were helping him average 9.2 points in 18.9 minutes per game. Hachimura does not credit mechanical adjustment or overtime in the gym.

“For me, it’s more confidence,” he said. “I’m more confident shooting 3s.”

Although his teammates are delighted with this development, Hachimura insists his attacking game still lives on in the midrange. He worked for 13.8 points per game in the 2020-21 season and 13.5 in 2019-20 while popping floaters inside the arc.

Oddly enough, Hachimura’s reluctance to lean into the three-point shot only makes Unseld more excited. Nobody is forcing Hachimura to throw three-pointers – the striker just picks the good shots that come his way without hesitation.

“Spatially, he places himself in the right places. The ball finds it,” Unseld said. “So we encourage him to take these shots. But I’m not telling him not to shoot halfway. We just don’t want those shots at the start of the clock, and we certainly don’t want him doing multiple dribbles and (isolation plays). There are times for that, opportunities for that late in the shot clock, but if you’re spaced out properly and the ball finds you, you do the right thing by stepping up and knocking those down.

But Hachimura’s selling point has always been defense, and in that regard, Unseld is always looking for progress. Hachimura is on the glass even less than he has been in seasons past, averaging 3.1 rebounds per game on a team struggling to bounce up and down the lineup.

The striker’s next big leap will be more mental than physical – he has to learn better from the NBA staff.

“Not only knowing his game, but knowing the four, five places,” Unseld said. “Because if we change, you’re going to have a new game with every possession.”

Hachimura is comfortable now after his late start to the year. He has his pre-game routine in place and his teammates are encouraging him to be even more aggressive on offense given his 3-point outburst. The Wizards appreciate the new dimension his long-range shooting brings to the second unit and are confident they will be able to use his versatility on both ends of the court, even if the roles on the roster change thanks to the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis.

But above all, they are happy to see his confidence after a trying year.

“Every game I feel like he’s gotten better,” guard Bradley Beal said. “He doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He plays hard, does his job and he’s competitive. That’s all you can ever ask Rui.


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