Rui Hachimura - Gonzaga
Power Forward 6’9” 234 lbs 20 years old
59.1% FG%, 41.7% 3P%, 73.9 FT%
30.2 MPG 19.7 PTS 6.5 REB 1.5 AST 0.7 BLK 0.9 STL 1.8 TOV
Recruited out of Japan, Rui Hachimura has a lot of raw tools and athleticism, but hasn’t had the benefits of being able to cultivate those against elite competition. At Gonzaga, he has had to first learn English before he could be part of a team. English is a notoriously difficult language for Japanese speakers and vice versa. The two languages are from two different language families. Saying that Rui learned English in his first year at school is underselling how difficult it was for him.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard,” said Hachimura in his ever-improving English. “A lot of people helped me. If I didn’t have that help, I would never be able to be like this.
“I didn’t think about (leaving), but if I think about it right now, I would have gone, you know.”
“We were throwing so much at him, and for a while we didn’t even realize how tough it was,” said Zags coach Mark Few, estimating that Hachimura absorbed about 10 percent of discussions at practice. “He’s such a positive, upbeat personality, always has a big smile on his face, but there were times when he was really tired and frustrated, not quite seeing the fruits of his labor. He literally never had a moment off. It was constant academic stuff, individual work, weights, playing, trying to understand what we were doing.
There were times that Hachimura would mistakenly believe his coach complimented him when he had really criticized him sarcastically during his freshman year. His freshman roommate said they mostly spoke using charades. Hachimura mostly played in blowouts. But then he improved and improved quickly once the language barrier was removed. It’s for that reason that many NBA teams believe Hachimura could be a premier NBA player because the key to unlocking his potential was never his work ethic, but his ability to understand and communicate fluently in English.
Rui Hachimura has a very promising physical profile for a modern Power Forward. He could be an ideal stretch four. He has good size, but he’s not a lumbering big man. He’s athletic enough to play about the rim and has good strength. With Utah possibly losing Derrick Favors as they go full steam for a big name free agent, Hachimura could prove to be a worthy replacement. Like Favors, he’s not afraid of contact and when he gets to the line he shoots over 70% from the line.
He has the potential to be a great defender as he has good length for his size. That would be a welcome addition to Utah’s overwhelming defense. Utah’s culture which has been a welcoming landing spot for many different international players from Australia, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Brazil would be great for a talent from Japan. Utah has been great at helping players get acclimated to the NBA.
He’s comfortable around the basket and a great rim runner. This is another way he could help the Jazz replace Favors as time moves on. He has the potential to be a good catch and shoot 3 point shooter. He didn’t take that many attempts in college, but the potential is there. This would be a skill that would develop in year three and four of his NBA career if he lands with the right team. Oh, and have we mentioned that he’s young? He’s only 20 years old, plenty of upside.
He’s a raw player. He’s only 20 years old, plenty of downside, too. He’s one of those players that won’t produce in the NBA until year two or three. If the Jazz were to draft him, he’d be spending a good amount of time with the Salt Lake City Stars because it’s just hard to crack minutes on a playoff team. We saw that with Grayson Allen.
He struggles as a facilitator. This one is a bit worrying for the Utah Jazz. The key to Utah’s offense is everyone at some point is a playmaker on the floor. As the four position in the NBA has evolved, a lot of people have focused on how Power Forwards shoot threes—which they do a lot more—but they initiate the offense and are playmakers even more. If Utah plans on having Donovan Mitchell be more of a one (Point Guard) in the offense, they’ll need a playmaking four who can initiate the play to allow Donovan to continue his scoring ways. Hachimura has the potential to learn, but I’d say this is more worrying than his small sample size of three pointers taken during his collegiate years.
Which brings us to his potential of being a three point shooter. He only shot 28% from three in college. That’s worse than Derrick Favors who many fans didn’t want to see shooting the corner three. Hachimura can improve, but it’s shaky at best. He’s more comfortable in midrange, but NBA offenses are not designed to hunt for that shot.
He also has shaky confidence. He’s an up and down player. Once again, he can be coached to be better, but Rui Hachimura is a high risk, high upside type player.
Q&A with Peter Woodburn of The Slipper Still Fits
I talked with Peter Woodburn, Site Manager of The Slipper Still Fits (SB Nation’s Gonzaga site), about Rui Hachimura. Figured he’d have a better idea of Rui and his NBA potential than I would. Responses are from Peter.
What strengths of Rui Hachimura will translate well to the NBA?
Rui is an athletic scorer who is equally as effective in the midrange area as he is in the post. He is also deceivingly quick up and down the court and is able to score easily in transition by outrunning his defenders. He is crafty in the post. His size allows him to bully smaller players in the post with ease. If he is stacked up against a larger defender, Rui is a surprisingly good ball handler, and has more than his fair share of crafty moves to get into the paint.
Oddly enough, Rui’s history also should translate to the NBA quite well. He still needs a bit of molding, he only started playing organized basketball when he was 14, and when he moved to Gonzaga as a freshman, he hardly spoke the English language confidently. The Gonzaga coaching staff kept him on a strict three-year-plan: Year One: get a toe wet, Year Two: get the feet wet, Year Three: Dive in. The growth throughout his three years at Gonzaga has been exciting and staggering to watch, and at times, it seems like he is just scratching the surface.
What weaknesses of Rui will need to be improved in the NBA?
Defense, defense, defense, defense. A lot of this stems from the inexperience of playing basketball for Rui. His defensive awareness is a bit lackadaisical at times. He has the height and the strength to hang with the best, so the inherit tools required are there. It really is just getting a coach to drill it into his head. To be clear here, Rui isn’t a player that doesn’t want to play defense because he doesn’t want to play defense. It really is that he just needs more book learning in that realm. Rui also is not the strongest three point shooter. He shot 41 percent from three, but he only shot 36 attempts the entire year. At Gonzaga, his role wasn’t necessarily to stand around the three point line. That might shift in the NBA because he is a smaller power forward, so it remains to be seen if he can consistently hit the long range shot.
What role do you see Rui being in the NBA?
Rui could either be a very good role player or he could be an All Star. His ceiling is that high, and it just depends on ending up with the right coaching staff, in the right situation. On a bigger than basketball role, Rui is set to become just the third Japanese-born NBA player, and the first Japanese-born player drafted. His story, if you haven’t read any of the multitudes of national profile pieces that popped up over the year, is fascinating through a cultural lens.
Would you consider Utah a good landing spot for him?
I think so. If your team’s expectation is that Rui comes in and scores 20/10 per night, you will be sorely disappointed. His size and athleticism mean he will earn quality minutes right off the get-go, but the defensive awareness will take time to adapt to. Having Rudy Gobert down low will help cover some of those lapses. Meanwhile, Rui can do what he does best, which is quietly and efficiently rack up a few points before you even notice.