Addressing the elephant in the room - Where is Rui Hachimura?
In the midst of the team's early success, Washington's 2019 first round pick is nowhere in sight.
The Washington Wizards are 4-1 for the first time since the 2014-15 season (shoutout Martell Webster) but after the high of every victory wears off, one question remains for fans, media members, and even Wizards players:
Where is Rui Hachimura?
Hachimura was given an excused absence due to personal reasons back in September (first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic) causing him to miss Wizards training camp. Fast forward, and Hachimura still hasn’t joined the team.
Not only has he not joined the team, nobody has seen him.
According to multiple sources, Hachimura hasn’t been in the practice facility at the same time as his teammates. “We haven’t seen him at all,” one source told me. “Maybe he does individual workouts at night, I’m not sure. We have no idea what’s going on with him.”
Throughout the week, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. is continually pestered with questions regarding Hachimura’s status — the answers have been repetitive, but dense.
“There’s no timetable on his return,” Unseld has said multiple times. “We’re still bringing him along slowly…I can’t comment next month or next week. We’ll see how it goes.”
It goes without saying that it’s not ideal for the third-year pro to miss this much time, especially when what awaits him at his return is a brand new coaching staff, teammates and scheme. Last season, Hachimura averaged 13.8 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting, alongside 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists through 57 games. He started all 57 and was penciled in as the starter, once again, this season alongside Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Daniel Gafford. However, out of necessity, Washington has been building chemistry and culture without an important piece of their roster.
While we’re only five games into the season, Washington has already grown closer together through adversity. Defeating the Indiana Pacers in the second game of the season without Beal (groin/hip contusion). A thrilling victory over the Boston Celtics, on the road, in which they were without guard Raul Neto (shoulder) and lost their starting center Daniel Gafford after just seven minutes of play. Defeating the Atlanta Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back without starting point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie (rest), and Gafford (right quad contusion). Chemistry is invaluable in this league.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge for anybody to miss this much time, throw them out there, and have success,” Unseld Jr. told reporters earlier this month.
He ain’t wrong.
A pivotal part of team building is overcoming tough situations together. I don’t know if there’s another team in the league right now that can say they’ve successfully gone through less than ideal situations, this early in the season, and came out smelling like a rose. Maybe the Golden State Warriors, who are off to a hot start without shooting guard Klay Thompson, but the key components of that roster, including the coaching staff, have logged a lot of minutes together.
Yes its’s early, but we can’t act like this doesn’t matter.
Back on the 27th of September, I reported that Hachimura’s absence was due to his mental health. During the summer, Hachimura participated in The Tokyo Games for host country Japan which was a huge deal for everyone involved. The Japanese men’s basketball team was on the world’s biggest stage for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics, more than 20 years before Hachimura was born. Hachimura and women’s freestyle wrestler Yui Susaki were Japan’s two flagbearers for the Opening Ceremony on July 23 at the New National Stadium – an honor of great magnitude. Unfortunately, Japan dropped three provisional games at the Olympics, eliminating any hopes of a storybook ending. Hachimura put up 20 points (8-21 FG, 4-11 3P), two rebounds and one assist against Spain, 34 points (13-28 FG, 3-6 3P), seven rebounds, and three assists against Slovenia, and finished with 13 points (6-17 FG, 1-4 3P), 11 rebounds and two assists against Argentina.
“Whether it’s on defense or offense, I play to win,” Hachimura said following the loss to Argentina. “It doesn’t matter how many I score or don’t score. And seeing that we lost again, I don’t think I did enough.”
There has been chatter among the team that maybe Rui’s absence has something to do with the Olympics and the lack of success achieved in his home country, but still, no one is quite sure.
“What’s weird is Rui’s name is sort of taboo around here – nobody mentions him or anything,” another source added. “You probably know more than we do at this point when it comes to what’s going on with Ru.”
On the bright side, Washington has played well without their 2019 first-round pick. Kyle Kuzma has started in his place and been solid so far this season on both ends of the floor. Kuzma is currently averaging 15.2 points per game while shooting 42% from the field (only 30% from 3-point range but he’s hit some timely shots from deep). He’s also 12th in the NBA in rebounding (10.8) and one of four Wizards averaging a steal or more on the season (1.4).
The coaching staff and front office haven't put any pressure on Hachimura to return before he’s ready, but it’s good to see the position is in good hands while Hachimura works his way back on the floor.
My dog Barata gets the #MMOTW with this one. Thanks for the love all the way from Portugal!