When Rui Hachimura was brought in as a freshman, Tommy Lloyd told us all that the Japanese sensation was on a three-year plan. Year one was to learn. Year two was to play. Year three was to let him loose. As Hachimura’s Gonzaga career (likely) comes to an end, I would say that plan was executed to perfection.
It’s pretty remarkable when you think about his progression over those three years. The media coverage of him all year has been through the roof, and we’ve read story after story after story about his journey - going from knowing no English and laughing at being called a “dumb ass” to going toe-to-toe with Zion Williamson in the matter of two years is unbelievable.
Rui earned WCC Player of the Year honors along with being named a second team All-American. The junior forward averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds, while shooting 59 percent. He was 10th in the nation in Win Shares.
Now, we wait and see on his NBA future. In all likelihood, he will declare for the NBA draft in the coming days. Early in the season, he was a guaranteed lottery pick. Not so much anymore, depending on who you ask. There are several scouts who are less fond of Rui’s prospects at the next level. He should be drafted in the first round, regardless. It just may not be a top 10 pick.
At the next level, Hachimura will continue to excel in open space. His offensive skill set, especially in the post, will translate just fine to the next level. His footwork has gotten so good and he has a variety of NBA caliber moves to score with. He knocks down mid-range jumpers better than most 6’8 guys in the world. His size and strength will allow him to be successful, as long as he taps into his killer instinct and doesn’t play passive.
His defense improved throughout the season, but is still not his strong suit. He often got beat off the dribble and relied on his athleticism to block shots at the rim. That won’t work at the next level. He also won’t be able to play bully ball like he did with several WCC opponents. Obviously, his jump shot needs to consistently extend beyond 18-feet, but his form looks solid, and there’s reason to believe it can get there.
In general, Hachimura is still learning the game. Which is crazy to think about, given how good he already is. But it’s true. He’s not a polished veteran. He started playing ball when he was a teenager. There are so many things he’s still trying to figure out - flow and feel for the game, basketball instincts, confidence, and aggressiveness. If a team falls in love with his offensive skill set, and believe they can develop all those weaknesses with time, then he’ll go in the top 15. More than anything, I hope he ends up in a spot where he can continue to grow and learn and not somewhere where he’s hoisted into an uncomfortable spot right away.
Hachimura is going to go down as one of the coolest stories in Gonzaga program history. His growth, both on and off the court, is almost unparalleled. It was an honor watching him grow up in front of our eyes. The coaching staff laid out a three-year plan to unleash the beast in year three. The beast was certainly unleashed and it was incredibly fun to watch him devour his prey.