Rui Hachimura had a slow start to his NBA career, but over the last eight games, the Washington Wizards rookie is starting to show the promise of a cornerstone player.
Hachimura is averaging 18.4 points, 7.4 rebounds over the last eight games, hitting double-digit scoring in all of them. The game seems to be slowing down for the first-year player out of Gonzaga, and if you look closely, there are shades of current Pistons' All-Star Blake Griffin which should provide plenty of daydream fodder for Wizards' fans.
Not many have made the Hachimura/Griffin connection. In fact, many pre-draft profiles compared him to the likes of Antawn Jamison, Jabari Parker or Thaddeus Young by our own NBA.com draft expert .
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However, to see the Griffin link in Hachimura, you have to look beyond the surface.
The first thing many people think of when they think of a young Blake Griffin is the otherworldly athletism. Hachimura doesn't have the jump out of the gym highlights, but he is more athletic than people give him credit for.
.@rui_8mura goes at it! 😤 @JAPANBASKETBALL 🇯🇵#JapanGotGame #FIBAWC #USAJPN- Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) September 5, 2019
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The player comp game typically involves comparing young players with previous fascimiles of that same type of young player.
This is where Hachimura, more seasoned than your typical impact rookie, breaks from the mould of the traditional player comp tropes that naturally develop when projecting out young players.
The real comparison isn't with the high-flying, gravity-defying, Lob City bannerman version of Griffin with the LA Clippers.
The better comparison is the polished, matured and well-rounded version of Griffin that's maintained his status as an All-Star in Detroit despite a slip in his once-generational hyper-athleticism.
What rookie Hachimura does as well as, or even better than the established Blake Griffin is finish at the rim. In Griffin's rookie year, it always felt like he was attacking the rim and finishing most plays with a highlight reel type finish. Griffin took 40.8% of his shots within three feet of the basket and converted on 68.9% of those looks. A lot of those were dunks, as he finished the season with 214 of them.
As Griffin's game began to evolve it was less about punching one home and more about finishing from point-blank range - absorbing compact, finishing around defenders instead of over them and deftly converting in traffic. Hachimura doesn't finish with authority at the rim like a rookie Blake Griffin, but he finishes with the accuracy at the rim of a mature Blake Griffin.
Through 21 games this season, Hachimura is shooting 73.1% within three feet of the goal. It's something Griffin didn't become consistent with until his second season in the league - when he slowly began the evolution from being a one-trick pony into a more diversly skilled scorer.
A lot was made of Hachimura getting his shot blocked at the beginning of the season, which is similar to the way rookie Blake Griffin started off his career. Griffin was blocked a career-high 93 times in his first year. Hachimura is on his way to meeting that mark having seen his shot rejected 31 times in just 21 games this year.
Getting your shot blocked isn't all bad, however, as it shows a willingness to seek out the rim and play amongst the trees. Griffin may have gotten his shot blocked a ton in his rookie year, but he also got to the line a bunch averaging 8.5 free throws per game and finishing with a career-high 83 and-ones.
Hachimura is averaging just 2.2 free throws per game on the season, but over the last eight games, he's found his way to the line 3.6 times per game. That's the next step in the evolution for Rui if he wants to become a next-level talent in the NBA: finding ways to live at the charity stripe where he's shooting 84.9%, one of the 20 best ever by a rookie .
It's slowly coming.
More plays like this one where he uses his body to create contact and get a shot away on LeBron James will help him get to the line with the frequency of a Blake Griffin.
On Monday night, the Wizards and Pistons do battle. A chance for Hachimura to go up against Griffin and show him and the world that he may not be young Blake Griffin, but he has the tools to be the more mature Blake Griffin.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.