Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment centers on Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura.
Rui Hachimura brings as strong a set of college basketball credentials as just about any player in this draft class. His three years at Gonzaga included massive annual strides forward in his individual game and culminated with his West Coast Conference player of the year award on a team that finished 33-4, earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and came up just short of a Final Four birth after a six point loss to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.
As a freshman, the young forward from Japan played just 4.6 minutes per game as he focused on acclimating to the language and culture of life in the United States, especially as a college basketball player. As a sophomore, he played 20.7 minutes per game in a bench role while scoring 11.6 points per game.
Early in his junior season, he jumped into the national spotlight with an exceptional performance in an 89-87 win over top-ranked Duke in the Maui Invitational finals. The tournament included solid wins over Illinois and Arizona as well. Hachimura was named tournament MVP over other high profile players including some who are expected to go very in early in the upcoming NBA draft.
Hachimura is a bit of an exception as he is generally assessed as being closer to his ceiling than many other players in this draft. His age (turned 21 in February) and experience alone lead to the natural conclusion that he has less upside than the players who are entering the draft after one season of college basketball. However, the Gonzaga standout’s known quantities are strong enough to make him a candidate for a late lottery pick.
An NBA-ready body and mature approach to working and playing the game stand at the top of his basketball resume. At 6’8 and 230 pounds with a wingspan of 7’2, he fits the profile of what NBA teams like to see in power forward prospects. Though he is not a super explosive leaper, he is a gifted athlete that can potentially handle himself against smaller, quicker players and might have the ability to play a combo forward role rather than exclusively being slotted to play the four spot.
In the half court offense, Hachimura is most comfortable working in the post or attacking from the mid-wing area. He will enter the league with the limit of lacking experience working from the deep wing and beyond the three point line. After making just nine of 40 three point attempts in his first two seasons, he did manage to shoot 41.7% from beyond the arc as a junior though his volume was low at just 36 attempts for the season.
His general lack of experience as a jump shooter leaves him with an incomplete score as a prospect in this area. He has not shown NBA range but is instead more comfortable shooting from the high post or extended elbow. He could develop range on his shot at the next level. His free throw shooting at the college level was solid and he does have the basis of a midrange jump shot from which to build. Teams should be extremely confident he will put in all the work necessary to maximize his proficiency as a shooter.
The young forward does have ball handling skills that could be useful at the NBA level. He is not a strong enough ball handler to work in traffic but he is terrific at pushing the ball in transition. In today’s uptempo game, this skill will be a terrific fit. He is not particularity a distributor of the basketball in transition, but his ability to push the ball up the floor will allow guards to get out and run and find opportunities to score at the basket or spotting up along the three point line.
Hachimura’s size should allow him to work solidly as a screener in the pick-and-roll and dribble hand off aspects of the games. If he is paired in the front court with a big who can space the floor and shoot, he could thrive working in these actions. Adding his respectable ball handling and midrange jump shooting to the equation, opponents will not be able to sag or play underneath when he is in this spot in the offense.
While he does not finish high above the rim, he is very capable finishing around the basket. He has very good rhythm as a cutter and rolling from the screen actions. His length and strength should compensate for a lack of elite verticality.
As a passer, he shows good vision and a willingness to move the basketball. He plays within the team concept. However, he has not particularly shown enough complexity or nuance to project him as a plus passer with an ability to get the ball to teammates in tight spaces.
On the defensive end of the floor, he is more determined and disciplined than skilled. He does have above average athleticism for his size but may not possess the lateral agility to match up with explosive players on the wing. He does sometimes get beat off the dribble but he never gives up on the play instead hawking the ball from behind with a sense of urgency.
In situations where he gets switched on to a guard, he will defend relentlessly and will not give up on the play. He may give up a bucket but nothing will come easy for the player he is working against.
Defensively, he is best suited for the power forward spot and could play some small ball five. In limited match-ups, he could play down to the three. He does not project as a primary rim protector but he is more than willing to play with physicality. Working as a secondary rim protector, his size and physical play should have some impact.
Though there are limitations to his game, Hachimura will enter the league with the ability to contribute immediately. This factor, along with his intense, physical work ethic and style of play would make him a strong fit for just about any NBA roster.
The Hawks could consider using the eighth or tenth pick to select Hachimura, though this would be viewed by many as a reach. He is more likely to go somewhere near the end of the lottery or in the late teens. There are a number of trade scenarios that could see the Hawks trading back a few spots from ten to select him but all of these scenarios are purely speculative.
In addition to his basketball contributions on the court, the young Japanese player should bring with him a strong following from Asia. The potential of adding fans from other parts of the globe would not be a primary reason for a team to select him, but could be one more layer of the decision-making process when factoring in non-basketball influences within any organization.
Ultimately, the team that selects Hachimura will land an extremely hard-working young man who should bring exactly what NBA coaches are expecting from players in the locker room and on the practice courts. He may not project as an All-Star but could be a solid contributor on a successful team for years to come.