By: Miguel Alarcon
This year’s NBA draft brought a different type of excitement compared to those in years past. For two reasons, one being that a lot of the media felt that this was a top-heavy draft. With players like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Rj Barrett, DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and of course, yours truly Rui Hachimura all entering the draft. Many felt any of these guys could potentially be franchise-altering players. However, that wasn’t the only reason to be excited, especially if your team was a lottery team. This year the NBA wanted to try something different. With all the speculations that teams were purposely losing (also known as “tanking”), the NBA felt it had to somehow gain traction on this issue. NBA commissioner Adam Silver felt tanking was destructive and corrosive. Both for the franchise and the fans. So to combat this, he decided to change up the lottery system. The 2019 NBA Draft would be the first time this new system takes effect. Here’s how it works, per nba.com
Under the revamped format, the NBA Draft Lottery will ensure that the team with the worst record will receive no worse than the fifth pick. Under the pre-2019 system, the team with the worst record would pick no lower than fourth.
The new system will level the odds at the top of the NBA Draft Lottery so that the teams with the three worst regular-season records will each have a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery. In the pre-2019 structure, the top seed had a 25 percent of winning the lottery, the second seed had a 19.9 percent, and the third seed had a 15.6 percent.
How did this affect the Wizards? Before lottery day came, the Wizards entered the lottery with the sixth-best odds to win the number one pick. With New Orleans, Memphis, and Los Angeles favored to win the top three picks because of their regular-season records most expected the Wizards to at least receive a top-five pick. The ping pong balls didn’t bounce in our favor, and Wizards fell back to receive the ninth pick. Enter Rui Hachimura.
With the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Wizards selected Rui Hachimura from Gonzaga University. Many fans speculated if the Wizards had made the right choice in selecting Rui. With guys like Cam Reddish, Nasir Little, and Bruno Fernando still available, fans were unsure if the Wizards had made the right pick.
Fast forward to today. The Wizards are about to wrap up their preseason, and all signs are positive in regards to Rui Hachimura. Rui started his summer playing in the Summer League, where we saw glimpses of talent. Then we move onto some of his games with Japan were he played for his national team and showed even greater ability during those exhibitions. With the Fiba World Cup tournament set to begin, all eyes were on Rui to lead Japan deep in the tournament. Rui struggled to play his best in Japans only three games as teams were aware he was the key factor in leading Japan and limited his ability by trapping and double teaming. Rui finished the tournament with 13.3ppg, a 43.3FG%, 2.3apg, and 5.7rpg. With the Fiba tournament behind him, the only thing next was to prepare himself for his first year in the NBA.
Now it goes without saying, but being a top ten pick in the NBA Draft adds on some pressure. The franchise has high hopes for your development, and the fans expect you to contribute right away. With that being said, one has to ask. What would it take for Rui Hachimura to be this year’s Rookie of the Year? I think to answer that question, we have to look back at past Rookie of the Year winners. Last year’s ROY award went to Luka Doncic. Luka Doncic immediately raised eyebrows with his impressive scoring ability, but scoring alone won’t win you the rookie of the year award. So I took a deeper look at some of the things that might help contribute to Rui winning ROY. Going back five years, three of the five past winners all played 80 or more games in the regular season. This is a lot easier said than done; an NBA regular season consists of an 82 game schedule, whereas most college teams usually play close to half of that. Yet being healthy and available still isn’t enough. Of the past ten ROY winners, nine of them averaged 30 minutes or more of playing time per game. That one might be a bit difficult as coach Brooks isn’t necessarily known for letting rookies play a lot of minutes. The Wizards have come out and said that they understand this year will be a development year, which should work in Rui’s favor in terms of getting significant playing time. Also, given that the Wizards are already dealing with a depleted roster due to injuries, it’s a good time for Rui to show his worth and earn as many minutes as possible. So how does he prove he deserves those minutes?
If you watched the Wizards last season, most of the offensive load was put on Bradley Beal’s shoulders. The Wizards heavily depended on his scoring and played him as much as possible, which led to Beal leading the league in minutes played at 36.9 mpg via nba.com. If Rui intends to compete for ROY, then he has to be able to contribute on offense, and not just contribute but also be efficient. In the past ten years, all ROY winners shot 40% or higher from the field. If he can average around the high teens in points per game, not only would he be helping the Wizards on offense, but it would keep him in contention for ROY. Scoring is the most obvious way to contribute on offense, but as we’ve seen in today’s NBA forwards and centers do more than just score. Elite forwards and centers are also able to create for their teammates (see Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic). With players in today’s NBA continually getting better at scoring, the area where he can separate himself not just from rookies but also from other players in the league is rebounding and defense. Rebounding is somewhere he can showcase his heart, effort, and determination by boxing out, chasing loose balls and denying second chance opportunities — finally, his defense. Basketball will forever be a two-way sport. Active hands and denying opposing team’s opportunities to score is a major contribution, especially for a team that finished 27th in the league in defense. It’s amazing to score, but no one wants to get scored on (see Kevin Durant).
Ultimately, from what we’ve already seen from Rui, he seems very comfortable adjusting to NBA speed. His cool, calm, and composed demeanor is something that everyone has taken notice of. From coaches to teammates, they all say the same thing; he’s eager to learn and handles criticism well. We’ve already seen flashes of Rui’s talent during the preseason both on and off the ball. Mainly he just needs to keep doing the things he does best and work on the small things. With help from his coaches and teammates putting him in a good position to be successful, there is no reason why Rui can’t compete and possibly win the Rookie of the Year award. By being drafted to the Wizards, he can take full advantage of this opportunity by helping a team that finished 25th in the overall standings. The opportunity is there he just has to take it.
Hear my thoughts on the team all season long on my podcast “Is That A Wiz Kid”