Rui Hachimura sticks with what works for career-high 30 points as Wizards lose to Clippers

The Washington Wizards played their last two games at Staples Center, and they lost both of them. But even in defeat, Rui Hachimura gave fans reason to cheer.

The Washington Wizards ended their four-game road trip with another loss at Staples Center, this time to the LA Clippers. However, even in defeat, Rui Hachimura gave fans reason to be excited as the Wizards return home for their next game against the Orlando Magic.

In the final contest out west (for now), Hachimura exploded for 30 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the 150-125 loss to the LA Clippers. It was Hachimura’s first 30-point game this season, joining Ja Morant and Eric Paschall as the only rookies to score 30 or more this season. For the first time in his young NBA career, Hachimura finished the game as the team’s leading scorer and trailed only Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in scoring. They had 33 and 31, respectively.

A 30-point performance this early in his career is awesome. A 30-point performance against this defense? Even more awesome.  The totals are certainly outliers; 30 points is a season-high and nine rebounds is just one shy of his season-high. The way Hachimura got there is as usual as ever, though.

How Hachimura gets it done

Thanks to StatMuse, here’s a look at Hachimura’s shot chart from his 30-point performance against the Clippers.

He did most of his damage around the rim, which isn’t surprising. Per Basketball-Reference, Rui has made 54 shots at the rim this season. He’s only made 50 shots when shooting more than three feet from the rim. Here’s what his shot chart looks like for the entire season.

A lot more crowded, obviously, but nearly identical to the chart of his Clippers performance.

Rui has taken 36 percent of his shots from within three feet of the rim and closer. And he’s making them at a 69 percent clip. Nice.

Against LA, he simply did what has been working all season. He just did more of it against the Clippers, making eight of his eleven shots from within three feet of the rim. The strategy wasn’t different, but the results were.

Struggles at the line(s)

It’s no surprise that Hachimura’s scoring primarily around the rim. Coming into the season, there were questions about the rookie’s three-point shooting. Despite a good percentage during his senior season at Gonzaga, Hachimura wasn’t much of a long-distance threat, attempting just one three-pointer per game. Instead, he did his damage at the rim. It’s good to see at least that part of his game is translating.

While the rim rocking dunks and acrobatic putbacks are great, Hachimura’s three-point struggles are noteworthy. Hachimura is only shooting 22.9 percent from behind the arc thus far into his rookie season. At this point, he’s hardly a threat from distance. For what it’s worth, he does have a better three-point percentage than fellow rookies Cam Reddish, Kevin Porter, Grant Williams, and Nassir Little.

Even if the shot is not going in, Hachimura at least looks to be growing more and more comfortable on the perimeter. During the Wizards’ four-game road trip out West, Hachimura shot 12 three-pointers, the most attempts he’s taken during any four-game period this season. Unfortunately, he only made three of them.

His inability to hit at the three-point line is troubling, but it’s nothing compared to his free throw line frustrations. The problem here isn’t that Rui is not making the free throws. In fact, he’s shooting 82 percent from the charity stripe. Rather, it’s that he’s not even getting to the line.

With the vast majority of Hachimura’s buckets coming around the rim, you’d expect to see the rookie racking up free throw attempts while banging around down low. That’s not the case.

On average, Rui shoots fewer than two free throws each game. This means Hachimura is lucky to get one call while in the act of shooting all game. Per NBA.com, Hachimura is getting fouled (1.4 fouls drawn per game) as often as he’s getting his shot blocked (1.4 per attempts blocked per game).

As a solid free-throw shooter, Hachimura should welcome any opportunity to get to the line. He can’t bully opponents on the block like he did in college and he’s learning that the hard way. However, if he can stop getting blocked, and start getting to the line, Hachimura can help himself and his team out in a major way. The Wizards currently rank 28th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game.

Lighting up LA

Hachimura played two games in Staples Center during the Wizards’ road trip. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, he started hot but fizzled. That night he was swatted thrice but drew just one foul. Against the Clippers, Hachimura had much more success, posting a career-high 30 points and seeing none of his shots rejected. Plus, he drew four fouls.

Next: Is it time to use load management on Bradley Beal?

One knock against Hachimura coming out of college was that he could be a head-down scorer. That’s still the case some nights. You can see the blinders go up when he gets deep into the paint, especially when he’s built up a head of steam on his way there. But he’s growing out of it and learning to be a bit smarter around the rim.

He’s already having a big impact as he grows out of these habits. Once they’re gone for good, look out.

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