Rui Hachimura is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He has already been a trailblazer for Japan as the first Japanese national to compete in the March Madness tournament. On June 20, he has the chance to become the first-ever Japanese player selected in the first round of an NBA Draft.
Rui Hachimura: 2019 NBA Draft Profile
Rui Hachimura’s Time with Gonzaga University
Hachimura came into Gonzaga as a three-star recruit out of Meisei High School in Japan. At 6’8” and 210 pounds, he had a significant size advantage over most of his high school competitors. Scouts weren’t sure if he would be able to dominate in America the same way he did in Japan, which, despite his impressive high school numbers, was the ultimate reason for his slightly lower ranking.
Playing ability aside, Hachimura was not even quite eligible to play basketball at an American university upon first signing. There were huge language and cultural barriers with his having grown up in Japan, but he also needed to pass his SATs prior to playing. Fortunately for Hachimura, he was able to do so and kicked off his college career in 2016.
In his freshman year at Gonzaga, Hachimura played just 28 games, averaging just 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. His production saw a big jump in his second year with more playing time (20.7 minutes a game as opposed to 4.6 in his first year). As a sophomore, the forward put up 11.6 points and 4.7 boards per game on 56.8% shooting from the field.
That sophomore season put Hachimura on the map as a potential NBA player. His junior year (19.7 points and 6.5 boards on 59.1% shooting) took him to a whole new level. In that year, he saw huge jumps in points and minutes (30.2 minutes per game) totals, but an improved three-point shot was the biggest addition to his game. The big man shot 41.7% from deep in his third year, up from 19.2% the year prior.
After the first-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs were eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Rui Hachimura declared for the 2019 NBA Draft on April 15.
Rui Hachimura’s Upside
In his third year at Gonzaga, Hachimura showed scouts that, if nothing else, he could score. He scored at will. Pretty much, whenever Gonzaga needed to score, they got him the ball. Inside the paint, Hachimura was a serious threat.
The forward is comfortable pushing the ball in transition with his dribble, which is a skill not too many big men possess.
He’s comfortable enough taking a midrange jumper from 10-15 feet to hit them consistently, which should help teams stretch the floor at least a little bit when he’s on. His three-pointer definitely improved to the point where he’s a threat to hit from deep if left wide-open.
Rui Hachimura’s Downside
Rui Hachimura can score. He can’t do all that much else on the court. His defense is shaky, especially as a rim-protector. On top of that, his three-pointer isn’t developed enough to make him a true threat from deep. Although he did shoot 41.7% from deep this past season, he only attempted one three per game. So, if a defender just gets a hand in his face, he’ll be a liability from beyond the arc.
Hachimura struggled on the glass at times. He allowed offensive rebounds for opposing teams and sometimes showed an inability to grab second-chance opportunities for his own team.
In college and in high school, Hachimura was able to use his size to his advantage and score inside. In the NBA, where there are often seven-footers in the paint protecting the rims, the 6’8” Hachimura might not score so easily.
That size disadvantage in the paint and his inability to defend or rebound as well as some other big men might cause Hachimura to slip on draft boards.
Hachimura’s game strongly resembles that of Denver Nuggets forward, Paul Millsap. At 6’8”, 246 pounds, Millsap has a similar build and playing style. Like Hachimura, the former Louisiana Tech big man spent three seasons in college. In his junior year, Millsap averaged stats eerily similar to those of Hachimura — 19.6 points per game on 57.1% shooting from the field.
Millsap, like Hachimura, is an offensive-minded power forward who can struggle at times protecting the rim. However, his rebounding ability is slightly stronger than Hachimura’s. That rebounding ability is something that Hachimura can build on with time though.
If Rui Hachimura has a career anything like Millsap’s (four-time All-Star and led a few playoffs runs with the Atlanta Hawks) he can be happy. With that being said, the two have very similar builds and playing styles.
Despite his clear gaps in play on the defensive end and on the glass, teams could definitely be tempted to take Hachimura with one of the first 20 picks of the first round. His steady yet quick progression in each of his college seasons proves not only a strong work ethic but a clear potential to improve once in the NBA as well.
Don’t be surprised if Rui Hachimura goes in the first 15, but expect him to be taken in the first 20.
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