• Fenrich

Rui Hachimura might be blissfully unaware

Rui Hachimura

6’8”, 240-pounds, 7’1.25” wingspan, undisclosed max vertical, turned 21 in February, ranked 20th by Fenrich:

While Draft Twitter salivated over Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, it was his teammate Rui Hachimura who received the headlines from national media. The 6-8, 230-some pound Japanese native was the focal point of an elite Gonzaga offense. He averaged close to 20 points on 59-42-74 shooting splits and 64% true shooting. With his size and ability to score from a variety of spots inside the three-point line, Hachimura’s offense-heavy game and backstory were more appealing for a national audience.

But what’s it all mean for him as a pro prospect? In addition to a sturdy, idealized modern-4 build, Hachimura has a wingspan over 7-1, good straight-line speed, and average to above average athleticism for his position. He’s not going to beat Aaron Gordon in a dunk contest or anything, but with a full head of steam in transition, he’ll dunk all over your ass and draw the foul. His height, weight, and length measurements are comparable to fellow draft classmates PJ Washington and Chuma Okeke, but that’s where similarities end.

I usually start with a player’s offensive strengths and transition to defense, but given that I have both Washington and Okeke ranked ahead of Hachimura, I’ll start off with their differences and how it informs my Hachimura rank of #20 compared to PJ (#9) and Okeke (#16). It starts with defense. In The Stepien’s thorough scouting report on Hachmirua (excellently written by Spencer Pearlman), his defensive limitations are comprehensively detailed – from rim protection to closeouts to footwork and more. Where I want to emphasize is an area that appears throughout Hachimura’s game: awareness. For a player with his physical profile and length, he can have a positive defensive impact just by being in the right place at the right time, but that’s not typically the case. He’ll put out effort in the form of lateral slides when defending the ball and rotating for a contest if he sees it. He’s tapered down his fouls/40 each season at Gonzaga, but his steal and block/40 numbers remained relatively flat. And the problem is less one of capability and more one of awareness. It’s hard to make plays or deter an opponent when you’re frequently out of position or unaware.

He’s a tough kid who doesn’t shy away from contact and has plenty of physical ability. He should be a better defender than he is and this is a big reason why I have him behind Okeke and Washington; a pair of forwards who don’t just make plays happen on the defensive side, but direct teammates, anticipate, read the floor. They play on a string, directing the hive mind of a defense while Hachimura seems disconnected, his focus impinged by that ever-present lack of awareness.

Offensively, Hachimura was one of the most efficient players in the country. Per stats.nba.com, he scored 1.152 points/possession which was good enough for 97th percentile in the country.

He scored in a variety of ways, but was his most efficient in post-ups (~19% of his possessions and finished in 90th percentile), transitions (~18% of possessions, 89th percentile), and spot-ups (~15% of possessions, 93rd percentile). Some of the transition buckets were a by-product of an up-tempo offense and while Hachimura is ox strong, NBA-style offenses rely a lot less on post-ups and he won’t have the same type of advantages going against pros. Caveats aside, for Hachimura to be at or around the 90th percentile scoring the ball on three different play types is a special level of scoring efficiency. His mid-range jumper – off the dribble, off the catch, out of the post – has a smooth refinement that feels almost like a throwback skill. I don’t think it’s quite to the level of David West’s, but when I saw him catch at the elbow, measure a defender, and calmly pop the 16-18 footer in his face, my thoughts kept going back to West who was so merciless in his execution of the shot.

Beyond the jumper, Hachimura has a comfort and keen sense of how to use his strength. He has a wider body than Washington or Okeke and loves to use it to his advantage against smaller, weaker defenders. His strength helps him to create space and his length helps him to get off clean looks. He also has nice touch that extends beyond the restricted area. With his strength and attacking mentality, Hachimura effectively draws fouls and gets to the line for nearly 8 attempts/40 minutes. Like Grant Williams, his three-ball is a work-in-progress and he enjoyed his most efficient mark from distance this past season, but the volume (36 attempts) is so low that it’s hard to glean much from the sample. However, unlike Williams, I don’t believe Hachimura is as dependent on developing the three because his scoring inside the arc is so refined. That said, a quality three-point threat, even at low efficiency, would open new windows for him to attack the rim and get more easy buckets and fouls.

As good and efficient of a scorer as Hachimura is, there’s a level of self-absorption to his game. I wouldn’t go as far as calling him a ball hog because he does make passes, he plays within himself, and doesn’t force the issue at the expense of his team. It’s more like he plays a pre-programmed game on the offensive end. Improvisation can be a part of this pre-programming, but it’s still designed to do one of two things: 1) get to one of Rui’s many high-efficiency spots and once there, he has the option to improvise and 2) if he can’t get his spot, then pass. But passing doesn’t mean creating and it doesn’t mean using an advantage to setup a teammate for a better look.

In 102 games over three seasons, he mustered just 81 assists to 120 turnovers. It almost seems that he’s unaware that creating for others is even an option or value positive part of the game. This is how and where the general lack of basketball awareness reveals itself on offense.

Like so many of these prospects, it comes down to how confident you are in a player’s willingness, ability, potential, and likelihood to address their flaws. Hachimura is a goddamn tactician scoring the ball, but two things concern me: 1) scoring is only going to get harder in the NBA and 2) what’s the net positive for a player who gets buckets, but does little to nothing else on offense? He doesn’t have gravity and doesn’t create for others while he’s fully capable of creating for himself. Asking a player to improve his ability to read the floor and react on the fly to what he’s seeing while trying to continue extending his jump shot and learn NBA defensive concepts while understanding his specific place in those schemes is no small thing. I can see Hachimura as a specialist of sorts or even developing into a primary contributor on a non-competitive team, but unless he can make a leap in multiple key areas, it’s hard to envision him having an important role on a winning team.