- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2019

If there has been a prevailing consensus in basketball this decade, it’s that the midrange shot is now understood to be one of the least efficient shots a player can take. The influence of analytics has driven this point home, and NBA teams took a record number of 3-pointers last season.

But for Rui Hachimura, shooting from the midrange is what has helped the Wizards rookie settle in the NBA.

In Friday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 21-year-old rookie got into a rhythm by nailing a number of jump shots. He hit his first seven shots and finished 10 of 13 from the field for 21 points. Four of his 10 makes were from the midrange.

As a whole, 31% of Hachmiura’s shot attempts have come from that range through the first eight games of his career. In fact, only 20 players have taken more attempts from that distance to start the season.

“That’s his comfort zone,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.

The Wizards eventually want Hachimura to expand his range. Like the rest of the NBA, the Wizards have grasped the importance of shooting from beyond the arc — setting a franchise-record last season with 2,731 — 558 more than the year prior. Washington’s three-point rate has climbed each of the last five years, as well.

But for now, Washington is comfortable with Hachimura’s shot selection. For one, the Japanese native has been incredibly effective from the midrange — shooting 51.6% on 31 attempts. Of the players with at least 25 attempts, that’s the fourth-best rate in the league.

Brooks, too, said he’s still trying to figure out the best ways to incorporate Hachimura. Last week against the Indiana Pacers, Hachimura went 0-for-5 in a blowout loss, and Brooks said he needed to do a better job of putting the rookie into positions to score. He later added he needed to discover what Hachimura doesn’t do well. “A lot of it was on me,” Brooks said.

The Wizards, however, have liked the way Hachimura has responded to his struggles. Twice this season, Hachimura hasn’t shot the ball well — also going 2 for 11 earlier this month against the Minnesota Timberwolves — but the rookie listened to the feedback his coaches gave him.

Following the Timberwolves’ loss, Hachimura went 5-for-7 for 12 points in a win against the Pistons. His 21 points on Friday were in response to a loss in Indiana.

“He’s even-keeled,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. … He’s very poised for a one year guy. It’s amazing to see the growth. He’s going to have good games, he’s going to have bad games.

“He’s able to be confident and realize it’s a long year.”

Beyond allowing Hachimura to take midrange shots, the Wizards have tried to get the Gonzaga product closer to the basket. Brooks said he has tried to get Hachimura on the open side of a pick-and-roll, so when defenses collapse on Beal, the rookie will be able to score an easy basket. The team wants Hachimura to be more aggressive at the rim, using his 6-foot-8 athleticism to blow by defenders.

The Wizards, envision Hachimura as being of the type of athlete who can eventually draw “six or seven eight” free throws per game, Brooks said. Part of the problem with Hachimura — and Washington as a whole — settling for so many jumpers is that the team ranks dead-last in free throw attempts. Against the Cavaliers, the Wizards took just six free throw attempts.

“Yeah, you have to,” Hachimura said when asked about finishing at the rim. “Even if I get fouled, you have to go up strong.”

Brooks, though, realizes it will take time for Hachimura to develop, and that applies to both his body and his basketball tendencies. At Gonzaga, for instance, Hachimura only attempted 76 3-pointers — across three seasons. The 21-year-old needs to get used to launching it from beyond the arc.

“You can’t just say, ‘Jack up some 3s because it scores one more point,’” Brooks said. “He’s working on it, but his midrange game is good. I like where he is right now.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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