Going into the 2019-20 NBA season, there were a few clear favorites to win the Rookie of the Year award. Former Duke star Zion Williamson was the obvious favorite, with fellow top-five picks in Ja Morant and RJ Barrett following behind him. One player who was seen as more of a dark horse for the award was forward Rui Hachimura, who was drafted by the Washington Wizards with the ninth overall pick in the draft.
Despite being listed at +900 to win the award a few weeks ago, Hachimura is making a legitimate case to be in the running. In 27.6 minutes per game, the former Gonzaga Bulldog is averaging 13.3 points to along with 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
Hachimura’s pull-up jumper looks better than expected, he’s far more mobile on both sides of the floor than he was given credit for, and once he learns how to finish through contact and figure out his sweet spots on the floor, he’s going to be dangerous screening for Bradley Beal.
Hachimura didn’t become an above-average NBA rookie overnight.
The 21-year-old was born in Toyama, Japan to a mother and father from Benin. He grew up speaking Japanese and only started speaking English regularly three years ago when he joined the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Japanese forward gradually improved in his time with the Bulldogs, with his junior year culminating as the year that made him a top-10 pick. He averaged 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists during that season.
These gaudy numbers in his final season at Gonzaga helped Hachimura earn enough honors to fill a small trophy case, including being named a consensus All-American, a member of the All-Region team in the Pacific Northwest, being named the WCC 2018-19 Player of the Year and the most talented member of the All-WCC team.
Despite all these accolades, Hachimura was criticized heading into the draft, because even though he had the length to guard both forward spots, his shooting range, lateral quickness and strength inside led to draft experts growing weary of him.
Hachimura still went ninth overall and made headlines because he was the first Japanese-born player to ever be drafted in the NBA, and he is making waves in the Japanese community off the court.
The 21-year-old forward has signed an unprecedented amount of endorsement deals with seven partners so far, with another three or four expected by February’s All-Star break.
It’s an unexpected haul for an NBA rookie, especially one who didn’t get a lot of hype going into the draft. He has done global deals with Nike’s Jordan Brand, NEC, NBA 2K, Casio and Nissin Foods, as well as Japan-specific agreements with SoftBank and banking giant SMBC. He has become the face of the NBA in Japan, as Forbes tabbed him as the most marketable rookie in the NBA not named Zion Williamson.
It appears that Hachimura is far from done with these sponsorships. With a plethora of Japanese media following him throughout his rookie season while he sports Jordan Brand athletic gear, he and NBA legend Michael Jordan have announced deals to grow Jordan Brand in Japan.
As for his play on the court, Hachimura has impressed so far in his rookie season, helping the Wizards boast one of the best offenses in the NBA starting alongside the likes of Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas and Thomas Bryant. Washington’s record is only 4-8, but that was to be expected.
While Rui Hachimura’s on-court impact has thrust him into the Rookie of the Year conversation, no matter how he finishes this season, his global impact is unmatched amongst NBA rookies.