LAS VEGAS — The loudest sound Rui Hachimura made in his NBA Summer League debut came when he lost a battle with the Thomas & Mack Center hardwood.
When the Washington Wizards matched up with the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, Hachimura, the team’s first-round draft pick (ninth overall), looked to contest every shot at the rim. Although his shots weren’t falling, Hachimura’s defense and effort could not be questioned, and in the second quarter, he stuffed a shot with such authority that he lost his balance and landed with a thud.
Hachimura’s left side took the brunt of the fall, and many in the crowd gasped. Interim team president Tommy Sheppard leaned closer from his courtside seat to see whether the Wizards’ future was okay. But Hachimura didn’t say a word as he got up and went about his business, letting his still-developing game speak for itself.
Top draft pick Zion Williamson, shut down with a bruised knee, was on the Pelicans’ bench in a team-issued polo shirt during the Wizards’ 84-79 win, so Hachimura was the only lottery pick on the court. He looked steady, though he did not shine. He displayed the type of power forward moves and footwork you might expect from a player who grew up emulating Carmelo Anthony, but he didn’t always finish. And although Hachimura reached double figures with 14 points, he missed 10 shots (finishing 6 for 16) and struggled from the perimeter.
“I was so excited. It was the first time after the [NCAA] tournament, March Madness, that I played five-on-five,” Hachimura said. “But I felt good to be back on the court and play with these guys with a good energy. We won the game, so that was great.”
As the Wizards’ starting power forward, Hachimura played 34 minutes of wordless basketball. His lack of verbal expression, however, did not reveal impassivity. His silence was just as noticeable as his effort underneath the glass to chase rebounds and his presence in the paint to defend the rim. Hachimura compiled five rebounds and two blocks.
“He went after a lot of shots,” said Robert Pack, the Wizards assistant coach who is guiding the summer league squad. “Some shots where guys thought they had an easy layup, Rui was able to come from the weak side and make a play on the ball. And I think having that defense and . . . energy will help him going into the regular season."
Hachimura’s performance mirrored the debuts of the Wizards’ previous high draft picks. Last July when Troy Brown Jr., the 15th pick, played his first professional game in his hometown, he committed five turnovers and finished minus-15 but contributed 13 points and four rebounds. In 2015, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked nothing like the confident teenager who strolled across the stage in spiky Christian Louboutin loafers after being drafted 15th; he misfired on six of his first seven shots while tallying 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Hachimura might have felt as Brown did a year ago when, in the third quarter, he allowed a potential assist from Justin Robinson slip through his hands under the rim. And he probably could relate to Oubre, who’s now a free agent, as he missed six straight looks in the first half.
Still, after every turnover and bad shot, Hachimura showed little to no reaction. After a jumper ended as an air ball near the eight-minute mark of the third quarter, Hachimura turned to transition back to defense. Later in the quarter, when he caught a lob pass from point guard Tarik Phillip and delivered a demonstrative two-handed dunk, Hachimura didn’t scream or celebrate. Again, he got back on defense.
Brown led the Wizards with 18 points and 15 rebounds. His three-point play late in the fourth quarter secured the win, and Brown, exuding more confidence at the start of his second year, playfully stared down his friend Christian Wood on the Pelicans’ bench. When rookie second-round pick Admiral Schofield approached Brown to celebrate, unleashing words of excitement, Hachimura walked over and quietly chest-bumped Brown.
“I would say he’s an introvert,” Brown said of Hachimura. “It’s a new experience and it’s a lot going on, but, yeah, I’d bet my money that next game he’ll be a lot better. He’ll be a lot more vocal.”
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