Rui Hachimura took on challenge of defending LeBron James. Here’s what motivated him
The Washington Wizards were able to pull out a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime on Monday and Rui Hachimura is beginning to show his horns as a defensive demon. Following Monday’s win over the Lakers, Hachimura revealed what has led him to give more effort to improve on defense of late, via The Athletic’s Fred Katz.
Rui Hachimura says Russell Westbrook was the one who told him he should be able to guard 1 through 5, which made him start to think about how important defense should be for him.
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) February 23, 2021
Coming out of Gonzaga, the Wizards were unsure if Hachimura was going to fit as a small forward or power forward in his rookie season in 2019-2020. Washington has played him at both positions in an attempt to see where he performs best for them.
While he’s always had potential on the offensive end of the floor, Hachimura wants to begin evolving into a formidable defender. The second-year forward pointed out that Russell Westbrook has gotten into his ear to let him know that he should be capable of defending every position on the floor. It’s paid dividends of late, with the Japanese national stepping up defensively amid Washington’s five-game win streak.
On Monday night, Hachimura got the first crack at guarding LeBron James. Of course, Washington’s entire defense would need to contribute to slow down James, who finished with 31 points, nine rebounds, and 13 assists. He also finished with eight turnovers and made just two of his 10 three-point attempts. Hachimura was the main line of defense during critical possessions down the stretch, bothering him just enough for them to pull out the win.
Even though Westbrook hasn’t been dominant defender himself the past few season, he has made up for it with his energy on both ends of the floor. Westbrook is always playing at 100 miles per hour, which can be a gift and curse for the team he’s playing for.
Provided that, Hachimura doesn’t have to become an All-Defensive First-Team player for the Wizards to be considered a successful defender. At the least, Westbrook and Washington want the Gonzaga product to realize that playing in the NBA is more than just scoring points and getting statistics that show up on the box score.