SNIDER: Wizards deliver pleasant NBA Draft surprise

Rick Snider
June 21, 2019 - 12:17 pm

The Wizards sure know how to keep a secret.

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They “stalked” a player for several years and nobody knew it. Not one mock draft. Not a single whisper in the winds. Nothing.

Rui Hachimura arrives in Washington as fresh news. The ninth overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft comes with no heavy expectations because nobody thought about him.

The Wiz were supposed to be coveting a big man like Sekou Doumbouya or a forward like Cam Reddish. Both were still on the board and the Wiz surprised everyone by making Hachimura the first Japanese-born player taken in the first round.

Somehow, it seems like a perfect fit.

International players are always popular in Washington where 20 percent of residents were born in a foreign country. And the District has the tenth largest Japanese population in the United States at 22,000, per the Pew Research Center.

Hachimura seems a gregarious salesman who will bring his own international entourage, surely something that makes Wiz owner Ted Leonsis smile. The newly-minted millionaire took the train from New York to Washington on Friday just like any other average Joe. It’s in keeping with his hard-working style that doesn’t abandon defense. That’s going to make coach Scott Brooks smile.

Admittedly, former Wiz general manager Ernie Grunfeld drafting Hachimura would have brought groans of another international player to be developed. But, the forward averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last year at Gonzaga. He’s ready.

“Rui is a player that we have watched for several years,” Wizards senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard said, “and we think he has the potential to be a tremendous two-way player with his combination of physical gifts, basketball IQ and work ethic.”

Give Sheppard kudos for finding a couple more players without a second-round pick. The Wiz paid cash – who pays cash anymore for anything – for Philadelphia’s second-rounder Admiral Schofield and Jonathon Simmons. The Wiz need bodies and Schofield was a steady forward at Tennessee with 11.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. Simmons, if the Wiz keep him around, played for three teams in four years and provides depth at guard and small forward. Washington needs to build an entire roster so the pair help.

Overall, the Wiz should be a little better and certainly more interesting after this draft.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.