Rui Hachimura made his highly anticipated season debut Sunday against the Magic.
Hachimura has not played a competitive game in seven months after stepping away from the team during training camp due to personal reasons. When he made his return, the third-year forward declined to go into detail about his absence per the Washington Post but did allude to needing a break after a hectic 18 months.
“I’ve been doing OK. It was personal stuff. I’d rather not talk about it. But it’s been great with the team, with everybody understanding my situation.” Hachimura said per The Athletic.
“I just needed time off,”
Since debuting in 2019-2020, the forward out of Gonzaga played in the NBA Bubble, played a quick turn-around 2020-2021 season, and then played for Japan in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, leading the country to their first national team appearance since 1976. Not to mention all the duties he had to fulfill as a media darling in Japan, leading the country’s athletes into the opening ceremony as a flag-bearer
The 23-year-old finished with six points, three rebounds, and an assist on 2-8 shooting in 14 minutes. Hachimura recorded his first points of the season at the free-throw line and logged his first field goal while crushing the rim with a two-hand slam in the opening frame of play.
Hachimura showed a bit of rust and his conditioning will improve over time. After all, his return was delayed after entering COVID-19 protocols, and he didn’t get any chance to play five-on-five in practice. However, that didn’t deter first-year Coach Wes Unseld Jr. or Hachimura at the slightest. If anything, the former ninth overall pick of the 2019 draft looked engaged and appeared to be making sure he was clear on his defensive responsibilities.
Unseld Jr. seemed to be encouraged by Hachimura’s play, who played Hachimura interchangeably at power forward and center.
“He was aggressive,” Unseld said per The Athletic. “I think he gives you that physicality that we lack at times. His size, his ability to play off the bounce (are valuable). He missed a couple open shots I think he’ll make, but they were great looks for him. So I’m excited to see how this unfolds.”
Heading into the 2021-2022 season, Hachimura was expected to play a vital role for a Wizards team determined to make a big leap after firing former coach Scott Brooks and hiring Unseld Jr. WIth the emergence of Kyle Kuzma as possibly the second-best player on the Wizards and a logjam at the forward-center spot, it appears that he will be competing with Montrezl Harrell, Deni Avdija, and Davis Bertans for minutes.
Not to mention Thomas Bryant, who is still rehabbing from a torn ACL, suffered early last season.
The Wizards have Monday off before playing the Thunder at home on Tuesday.