Pacers PSA: Whatever you do, don’t draft Rui Hachimura

MORAGA, CA - MARCH 02: Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs slam dunks against the Saint Mary's Gaels during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at McKeon Pavilion on March 2, 2019 in Moraga, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
MORAGA, CA - MARCH 02: Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs slam dunks against the Saint Mary's Gaels during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at McKeon Pavilion on March 2, 2019 in Moraga, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Rui Hachimura is an intriguing prospect, but there are reasons for the Indiana Pacers to be wary about taking him with the 18th pick in the NBA draft.

No fluff. No fancy intro. We’re getting right into why the Indiana Pacers should not spend the 18th overall pick on Gonzaga big man Rui Hachimura, a player often mocked in this range.

Despite his impressive averages (26.1 points, 8.6 rebounds per 40 with 63.9 true shooting percentages) and (fraudulent) individual accolades, Rui Hachimura is far from the top 10 prospect so many tout him as.

Even though he is a good scorer, his offense likely will not translate to the NBA level because of a grave lack of feel. His lack of feel will also be a massive hindrance on defense, where his mental processing will be a limiting factor for his ultimate upside.

Drafting the 21-year-old Japanese native with a high pick will be a colossal mistake and a waste of valuable assets. It seems there’s a solid chance Hachimura won’t reach the Pacers at 18, but there’s a shot he falls and Kevin Pritchard takes the bait.

For the second time this offseason, Kevin Pritchard, if you’re reading this I’d offer this advice: Don’t draft Rui Hachimura.

Rui Hachimura’s offense isn’t NBA-ready

We’ll start with Rui Hachimura’s best trait, his scoring. There’s no questioning Rui’s scoring dominance at the college level. Against outmatched West Coast Conference opponents and even college powerhouses, teams struggled to limit Hachimura’s point totals from rising.

With size, strength, coordination, fluidity, touch and an elite mid-range jumper, Gonzaga routinely fed Hachimura the ball at the free throw line and let him eat. Shooting 43.9 percent on two-point jumpers on 171 attempts, Rui overwhelmed defenders inside the arc.

Rui is fluid and fast and as a result, is an excellent transition scorer and excels on grab and goes. He grabs the rebound, pushes and pulls up from near the free throw line.

Most college defenders couldn’t hang with his speed and skill in the open court and I suspect this will be a legitimate plus of his in the NBA as well.

Hachimura shot  41.7% from range, but his 0.077 three-point attempt rate is deeply concerning. He has good touch around the rim and excels from mid-range, so extending his shot out to the three-point line with greater volume is within the realm of possibilities and would unlock a new dimension in his game.

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The major limiting factor for Rui Hachimura’s offensive game is his complete lack of feel for the game and slow overall processing.

Decision making is king in the NBA and is a key trait for everyone who is not an elite shot-maker or generational athlete to possess.

It is the trait limiting a supremely talented player like Zach LaVine from ever being as valuable as he could be.

With an assist to turnover ratio south of one, Hachimura is prone to awful shot selection. When he isn’t sporting 98th percentile efficiency in the NBA, these type of attempts will get Rui sent to the bench.

At times, Rui flashes capable passing vision, like this beauty of a lob to Brandon Clarke.

Against the weaker zones of the WCC, Hachimura was able to make solid passes through the cracks of a gaping zone.

Though, for every strong pass Hachimura exhibits, there’s 10 more missed reads or late deliveries, resulting in head-shaking turnovers and bricks. I don’t think Rui doesn’t like passing, his processing is so slow he often resorts to what is comfortable to him, scoring. He’s like the anti-RJ Barrett in that regard.

Take this next clip, where Rui sees the pass a half-second late, turning what should be an easy dunk into a turnover.

Returning back to a clip from earlier in this piece, look at how wide open Brandon Clarke is when Hachimura catches this ball. He doesn’t even think about passing here, as he takes a dribble and powers into three defenders. It goes in here, but shots like these won’t fall consistently in the NBA.

Out of a faceup, Hachimura’s instincts is to score the basketball, no matter the cost. He ends with three defenders stonewalling him on the drive. Instead of passing to a wide-open Josh Perkins, he airballs a layup over the rim.

Turning on the catch, Rui stares right at Jeremy Jones. Instead of making the easy pass to the wide-open corner, he fades over two defenders, wasting a possession.

When Garrison Brooks rotates to help on Rui’s drive, he leaves Brandon Clarke wide open in the paint. Hachimura doesn’t see him and Josh Perkins compounds Rui’s poor vision by making the same read seconds later.

Attacking in transition, Hachimura doesn’t glance at Corey Kispert in the dunker slot. By the time he identifies a wide-open Jones, it is for naught as he’s already crashed to the floor.

In college, Rui Hachimura’s absurd volume and efficiency masked his serious feel and instinct issues. In the NBA, he almost certainly will not sport elite efficiency. Against top 70 opponents this season, Hachimura’s true shooting percentage dropped from 63.9 percent to 56.3 percent, closer to average.

Even if Hachimura gets to be 70th percentile efficient as a mid-post scorer, his passing warts will overshadow his scoring goodness.

His best case scenario is for a team to employ him as a bench offensive weapon, asking him to do nothing but come in, get buckets and sit back down. If Rui is leaving open shots on the table by missing passes, how valuable will his offense really be if his efficiency is sub-elite? Because of his passing, I don’t think Hachimura will ever be a viable NBA starter, let alone in the playoffs.

Improving his three-point shot would help his case, though I’m not sure a good shot would save his offensive projection. At this point, Hachimura seems nothing more than a bench offensive engine and transition scorer.

Rui Hachimura’s defense isn’t what it needs to be

On offense, Hachimura at least projects to provide some value with his skill and scoring package. His defense, though, will make it difficult for him to ever be a positive NBA player. Starting with the good, Hachimura’s on-ball defense is legitimately solid. It is hard to be outright bad when a player has the strength, size and length of Rui Hachimura. He should be able to hold up against most wings and even switch onto some guards.

He is inconsistent on the perimeter against guards, lacking elite lateral quickness or technical precision to stay in front of ball-handlers.

When ball-handlers make a strong move, Hachimura often overcommits in one direction, compromising his position despite solid foot quickness.

Some have labeled Hachimura as a potential small-ball five candidate. This could not be further from the case. They first cite his switch potential.

While I agree he can defend guards, Hachimura is comically bad at communicating switches. Secondly, there is so much more to playing small-ball five than switching, namely pick-and-roll defense and off-ball IQ and instincts. Unfortunately for Hachimura, those two may be his biggest issue.

As a team defender, Hachimrua is a virulent ball-watcher. He often neglects to help on drives right in front of him, conceding easy baskets. Here, he doesn’t try to tag the roller and apathetically watches Noah Dickerson slam the rock.

He doesn’t bat an eye at this Luke Maye dunk.

Daydreaming about laying on the sublime beaches of the Maldives, Hachimura lounges in the paint for a good five seconds. Completely forgetting about his man on the weak side, the whistle saves him from giving up a wide-open three.

I already touched on Hachimura’s defense against guards, which mostly translates to the few times he checks the pick and roll ballhandler. Guarding the PNR as the big man, Hachimura often flirts with disaster.

In this setting, his painfully slow processor rears its ugly head again, as he often gives up open shots after failing to read the play or remember the coverage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player as poor defending pick and pops as Hachimura, as his mental leisure routinely allowed open jumpers.

Admiral Schofield doesn’t really screen here and as a result, Josh Perkins has Jordan Bone covered with help behind him. Tennessee wants to get Schofield open on the pop and they have the perfect defender to exploit here: Rui needlessly bites hard on Bone’s drive, leaving Schofield wide open to win the game.

Guarding in drop coverage (I think?), I have no inkling as to what Hachimura was trying to do here, as he lets Kenny Williams waltz by him into the lane.

Here, Hachimura stays on Jaylen Nowell for far too long, as Zach Norvell has recovered and Corey Kispert is in position to help in the gap. Not returning to guard his man, Brandon Clarke has to defend two players at once and Washington gets a dunk.

His utter lack of spacial awareness shows up all the time on defense; he doesn’t read the weak side here, sagging into the paint and leaving Grant Williams all alone behind the three-point line.

Hachimura is a fine college post defender and should be able to hold up on-ball against many NBA players. However, the absence of any awareness or quick decision making to his defensive game will have fans of his future team yelling at their television on a nightly basis. Mainly because of his defense, I have a difficult time envisioning Hachimura surviving as a starter on a good team in the NBA.

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For the Pacers, there are so many better options than Hachimura. Even if Indiana may be one of the few teams with a good enough staff and culture to fix (to some degree) Hachimura’s many defensive and offensive flaws, why not draft a player with fewer flaws in the first place?

Even the good aspects of Hachimura’s game aren’t super valuable in the modern, perimeter-oriented NBA where intuition can make or break a player.

At some point in the draft, Hachimura is worth a pick based on his offensive skill set and transition scoring alone, hoping he becomes a knockdown three-point shooter and hoping he lands with a team capable of hiding him on defense.

At 18, though, there will inevitably be multiple better prospects for Indiana to select, like Grant Williams. I struggle to see a path where Hachimura becomes more valuable than Marcus Morris, whose value is capped by his decision-making and defensive inconsistencies.

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As for Hachimura, I wish nothing but the best for him. He seems like a smart, hard-working young man and I hope he proves me and many others wrong in the NBA. However, him correcting his many flaws and performing a significant mental uptick is not something I would hope the Pacers bet on in the middle of the first round.