Miami Heat

What to know about Rui Hachimura and his fit with the Heat. And what makes him so unique

Spoelstra: “This season without question would be the growth of our young players”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday April 12, 2019 in Miami.
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Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday April 12, 2019 in Miami.

Rui Hachimura is one of the most unique prospects in this year’s NBA Draft.

When Hachimura is selected in the June 20 draft, he’ll become the first Japanese-born player drafted into the NBA.

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Hachimura is projected as a lottery pick in most mock drafts after an impressive junior season to cap off his three-year career at Gonzaga, which included just two starts in his first two college seasons. The 6-foot-8 forward took on a starting role as a junior, averaging 19.7 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent shooting on threes to go with 6.5 rebounds.

Those stats earned Hachimura, 21, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year honor in addition to being named a First-Team All-American.

To make Hachimura’s story even more impressive, he knew very little English when arriving to the United States three years ago to play at Gonzaga. But he now speaks it fluently.

Hachimura, the son of a Beninese father and Japanese mother, played in Japan through high school.

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WHAT ARE MOCK DRAFTS SAYING?

Almost every mock draft has Hachimura as a first-round pick, and most mock drafts project him as a lottery pick.

Hachimura opted to skip the NBA Draft combine earlier this month. According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, there are rumors that Hachimura already received a commitment in the lottery with the Timberwolves at No. 11 believed to be that team.

With that taken into consideration, the latest Sports Illustrated mock draft has Hachimura going to the Timberwolves at No. 11.

“The buzz at the combine was that there is very little chance Hachimura slips out of the lottery, with Minnesota generally thought to be a soft landing spot for him,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “NBA teams value his alpha-dog mentality, physical tools and defensive switchability, and many are of the belief that Hachimura can still take his game to another level, particularly if his shooting improves. There’s some risk his feel doesn’t improve offensively.”

The Athletic’s latest mock draft has the Hornets taking Hachimura at No. 12, one spot before the Heat.

“NBA teams are high on Hachimura’s tools,” The Athletic wrote. “He’s 6-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan at 240 pounds, but also maintains high-level athleticism. His first step is terrific for a man his size, and it allows him to get to the basket. As a shooter, there’s a hitch at the top of his release to fix, but his touch is pretty good and at least portends some potential — but he needs to get more confidence from beyond the arc. Defensively, he possesses potential due to his strength and length, although sometimes his feet get a bit stuck in the mud at times and his feel on that end isn’t particularly strong after his prep years of being the primary offensive option with little defensive accountability until he reached Gonzaga.”

ESPN’s mock draft has Hachimura slipping out of the lottery, going to the Pacers at No. 18. But this mock was put together before rumors of a lottery commitment surfaced at the combine.

BOTTOM LINE

There’s some clear upside when it comes to Hachimura. And if he’s still available when it’s the Heat’s turn to select at No. 13, he’s a prospect to at least consider.

As a player who can be used in both forward spots because of his impressive combination of size, length and athleticism, Hachimura is still growing as a basketball player. Even as a prospect who spent three years in college, he only started playing basketball in his early teenage years and improved drastically during his Gonzaga career going from 2.6 points per game as a freshman to 11.6 points as a sophomore to 19.7 points as a junior.

Hachimura is known for his mid-range offensive game, and there are questions whether he’ll be able to extend his shot beyond the NBA three-point line. Just 7.7 percent of his shots as a Gonzaga junior were threes, but he did make them at a 41.7 percent clip. Defensively, Hachimura can guard multiple positions with the length to defend bigger players and the athleticism to stay in front of smaller players.

The question for the Heat, and the rest of the NBA, is whether it feels Hachimura can improve offensively and develop a reliable three-point shot. With the Heat among the worst in the league in a lot of offensive categories last season, drafting a prospect with a higher offensive ceiling could make more sense. But Hachimura is an intriguing option because he’s still somewhat new to the game and has already proven in college he can improve from year to year.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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