Hachimura, the new face of Japanese basketball and the Washington Wizards’ top incoming rookie, blew past Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton and dunked in the face of Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner for his single highlight of the Americans’ 98-45 blowout win.
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The clip played well on social media, as dunks do, just like Hachimura’s other highlight from earlier in the FIBA tournament when he taught another NBA player, Ersan Ilyasova of Turkey, not to test him at the basket. But as spectacular as those highlights were, they did not depict Hachimura’s overall performance, especially his struggles Thursday in his first test against a roster of seasoned NBA players.
He won’t get another in this tournament. Japan and the Wizards announced Thursday night that he would sit out the final two games because of “knee discomfort and general fatigue.”
“I love Team Japan,” Hachimura said in a statement Thursday night. “This was a difficult decision for the Wizards, Japan Basketball, and myself to make. I am still learning about my body and trust that the Wizards and Japan Basketball are doing everything they can to help me be the best I can be for the NBA season and the 2020 Olympics.”
Hachimura started and played 24 minutes against U.S. players such as Middleton, Turner, Boston Celtics star Kemba Walker and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, and he finished with just four points on 2-for-8 shooting. He recorded four rebounds and one assist, but his plus-minus rating was a dismal minus-48, showing his team was heavily outscored during his time on the court.
Both of his made field goals — the dunk and a pull-up midrange jumper — came in the third quarter, after he had settled into the game and showed more aggression. Before that, however, Hachimura was not the best Japanese-born NBA player on the floor.
That distinction belonged to Yuta Watanabe, the George Washington product who last year split time with the Memphis Grizzlies and their G League affiliate. Watanabe scored four of his national team’s first six points. Though Japan was clearly overmatched — it trailed 18-6 at that point — he looked comfortable against his American NBA peers, whose team lacks star power but still has the deepest roster in the tournament.
Still, Watanabe finished with just nine points in 27 minutes and was the only Japanese player to post a lower net rating than Hachimura at minus-49. Yudai Baba, who suited up for the Dallas Mavericks in July’s Las Vegas Summer League, led Japan with 18 points and was the only Japanese player to crack double digits.
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Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown paced the United States with 20 points and added seven rebounds, making up for the absence of his Boston teammate Jayson Tatum, who sprained his left ankle in the Americans’ previous game. Walker added 15 points and eight assists, and Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings had 14 points and eight rebounds. The United States next will face reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece on Saturday in the second round of the World Cup.
Aside from his dunk, Hachimura did not stand out Thursday. Not in Japan’s zone defense that pulled him to the perimeter and forced him to pick up a bad foul by hacking Brook Lopez from behind after he scored at the rim. And not on the offensive end, either, where Hachimura’s first shot attempt — a turnaround jumper — came when his team trailed 8-0 and led to a three-pointer on the other end that padded the score.
In the final two minutes of the first quarter, Hachimura finally got aggressive when the smaller Derrick White, a point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, switched onto him. Hachimura backed White down and was fouled before making the shot. The two points didn’t count, though, and Japan didn’t score on the possession. Hachimura went scoreless in the first half and was a minus-28 at the break.
Hachimura looked like a different player after halftime when he created his highlight moment. Still, while Hachimura soon will join the game’s elite in the NBA, his debut against this level of talent was an up-and-down display for a rookie who still is learning to play with the world’s best.
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