The Washington Wizards have selected Rui Hachimura with the No. 9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Hachimura is the best Japanese prospect in NBA history, but he has far more to offer than just a unique heritage. Hachimura was one of the best offensive players in college basketball last season, scoring 19.5 points per game with a fairly untraditional combination of skills. The 6’8’’ Hachimura is a traditional forward and looks the part when he scores from the low block, but he pushed his range out last season and began to experiment from behind the three-point line. The volume wasn’t meaningful enough to suggest he’ll ever be a gunner, but 41.7 percent is never a bad number.
The downside to Hachimura comes on defense. He is not an overly athletic defender and will struggle when forced to play in space and navigate complex offenses. Things just never clicked for him on that end of the floor at Gonzaga, and that was with defensive ace Brandon Clarke on his roster. He may not have such a forgiving front-court partner in the NBA. Hachimura’s defense needs to be improved from the ground up. That will require physical changes and incremental improvements in basketball IQ that will only come with experience. Hachimura won’t be a major contributor right away, but the upside exists for him to be a solid NBA player.
The Wizards don’t currently have a general manager. That is an almost unprecedented position for a team to be in at this point in the offseason, but they have set their sights high with candidates like Tim Connelley and Masai Ujiri and appear unwilling to compromise. That has meant delaying their hiring decision more than is optimal. After all, their next GM is going to have an enormous task ahead of him.
The Wizards don’t have much young talent to speak of. They are capped out for the foreseeable future thanks to the disastrous extension John Wall signed in 2017. They finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season, and without major improvements, they will struggle to do much better next year. Bradley Beal is the only major asset this team has, and it isn’t even clear how much longer he’ll be around. The Wizards need a huge infusion of talent, and they need it as quickly as possible.
Hachimura will have plenty of chances to prove himself on a rebuilding Wizards team next season. Beal will take the bulk of the shots, but there will still be plenty of opportunity left over for a young player like him to thrive for the Wizards. This may not have been the pick that fans were expecting, but they are taking a big swing on a prospect they believe in.