Hachimura's NBA rookie season: "I learned a lot"

Japan's first basketball player to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft took stock of his first year in the big league: "I hope to build off this"

By Ken Browne

Hachimura Rui made history before a ball before a ball had even been bounced in the NBA.

Japan's first ever first round draft pick had a lot of hype to live up to, and he did it in style with the Washington Wizards, many expecting the fluid small/power forward to make one of the NBA's all-rookie teams.

"This season was really long, and a lot of things happened, but looking back I really learned a lot," the 22-year-old reflected.

In his first season Hachimura had to deal with much more than just rugged NBA defencemen: A global pandemic, Tokyo 2020 Olympic postponement, Black Lives Matter, and greater responsibility in the Disneyworld NBA bubble.

"I think those things are going to help me going forward," he said, "first, I'm just thankful that everything worked out for me. And I look forward to next season."

Hachimura averaged 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 48 games in his first season.

He dropped a career-high 30 points against the LA Clippers, leading all first-year players in rebounds per game and ranking fifth in scoring.

Hachimura Rui: Leader

In an injury-wracked season for the Wizards who went 25-47, leaving them well out of contention for the Eastern Conference playoffs, Hachimura stepped up and lead the side.

The Gonzaga star graduate built an understanding with two-time All-Star Bradley Beal, learning exactly where to be to help the team.

“I can see now,” Hachimura said after scoring a team-high 27 points in their 119-113 win over the Philadephia 76ers back in December.

“We’ve played 20 games and I’ve played every game. I’m comfortable now seeing my spots. Brad [Beal], he gets the double-teams every game, so I know what he wants and where the open spots are. I’m more comfortable.”

“It's crazy,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “He's like a seven or eight-year vet. He just chips away at the game every time. That guy, he's a winner."

"That guy, he's a winner" - Wizards' head coach Scott Brooks on Hachimura Rui.

"He just plays the right way," continued Brooks, "he plays hard, he plays for his team. He's not searching for stats, he just competes and he wants to get better. He knows he has a lot to learn and he's a sponge out there, he wants to improve. Every match-up that he plays is the first time he's playing against that guy.”

And it could have been even better for the Japanese baller had he not missed a month-and-a-half recovering from a kick to the groin suffered on December 16, just when he was putting his best run of the season together.

But Wizards went into the bubble games in Florida missing key players Beal, John Wall and Davis Bertans.

Hachimura stepped up, taking on more responsibility in Disney World when the NBA restarted on July 30 following a four-month break due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“It was hard at first to be in a position to lead the team (in the seeding games) because I was always tightly marked,” said Hachimura, who scored 20 or more points three times after the league’s return.

“But I learned how to operate under those circumstances. I hope to build off this experience. It will help me in my NBA career going forward.”

"I want to spend the off-season getting better" - Hachimura

Unfortunately Hachimura couldn't play in the Wizards' final game of the season against the Boston Celtics due to an injured quad, but he was positive about the future of Washington's young side that's full of promise.

He's particularly looking forward to the return of All-Stars Wall and Beal, making the team competitive again.

“When the team is whole again, when John and Brad return, it is going to be a fun team,” Hachimura said.

Staying humble, Japan's star baller is just focussed on getting better in the off-season.

“I don’t know how much I can contribute, but I want to spend the off-season getting better and I hope to play well next season.”

Back before the season began it was clear the type of attention and scrutiny Hachimura was going to play under, remember the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League last year where 61 journalists and snappers from 21 Japanese media showed up to record his every move?

Now the shy, mixed race kid from a small town in Japan who "was always hiding from people" has proved he can handle the pressure, his first NBA season in the bank, proving he belongs with the best there is in the NBA.

And there's so much more to come.