When the Washington Wizards drafted forward Rui Hachimura with the ninth pick in the 2019 draft, expectations were understandably high. He had a decorated college career at Gonzaga in which he was a consensus All-American and was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2018-2019. His game took huge leaps every year he was on the team, and he went from averaging just 2.6 points per game as a freshman to averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.
Hachimura is part of an odd group of players such as Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid that did not start playing basketball until they were older than most. In Hachimura’s case, he did not begin playing basketball until he was 13 years old. This is likely what allowed him to improve so rapidly at an age when many players’ skills are beginning to plateau. While his improvement since the beginning of his college days has been vast, there is an aspect of his game that is beginning to become worrisome; namely, his shot selection and inability to shoot 3-pointers at a high level.
Throughout his time at Gonzaga, Hachimura’s game improved in almost every facet. In particular, his shooting improved tremendously. He went from shooting 54.2 percent on free throws as a freshman to shooting an average of 76 percent his sophomore and junior years, an improvement of over 20 percentage points. Despite his marked improvements as a shooter, he never displayed a particular willingness or effectiveness when shooting 3-pointers. It is unclear if this was a calculated decision by Hachimura and the Gonzaga coaching staff to not work on this part of his game, or something that he simply avoided doing because their system did not need him to take and make these shots. Either way, it was a question mark for many scouts about his game coming out of college. Most however, assumed he would simply improve at the furious and exponential rate that he did during his college days and become a knock down 3-point shooter in no time.
Fast forward two years into his NBA career, and Hachimura’s improvements as a 3-point shooter have been marginal at best. He takes an average of three a game and hits them at a 33.7 percent clip. He is far from a non-cover, but he is not anything to write home about either. Most players who play the 3 or 4 positions in the NBA are expected to be taking at least five or six 3-pointers a game and hitting them at around a 35 percent clip.
While the lack of development as a 3-point shooter has been disappointing, what he has substituted those shots for is even more problematic. He is currently taking 55.6 percent of his shots outside of the paint and inside the 3-point line. Statistically, there is not a worse shot to be taking from an efficiency standpoint. These shots are usually contested or shot off-the-dribble, and they are worth only two points. The league wide averages on these shots are usually remarkably similar to the league average on 3-pointers, so it makes very little sense to take these shots instead of taking a few steps back for the extra point.
There is a certain anecdotal quality that taking contested two-pointers seems to have, and even members of the media fall victim to poetic quality a pretty pirouette from 14 feet, such as in this tweet from NBC Sports Washington:
This is a cool highlight.
*whispers* Hachimura shoots about 39% from midrange this season.
— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) April 1, 2021
But the Wizards coaching staff needs to listen to whoever is running the Bullets Forever Twitter account and get these shots out of Hachimura’s shot diet as quickly as possible. They will not be conducive to the team’s success or his own in the future. Wizards reporter Quinton Mayo recently compared Hachimura to Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris.
I mean, it’s blatantly obvious. pic.twitter.com/vFj747GG1e
— 📌Quinton Mayo (@RealQuintonMayo) April 1, 2021
It’s easy to see the similarities, they are both volume scorers with large wingspans and a propensity to take mid-range jump shots. The difference between Harris and Hachimura is that Harris takes and makes 3-pointers. If he wants to reach his potential as a player, that development needs to come sooner rather than later. Here’s to hoping the Wizards coaching staff feels the same way.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN