Wizards, Warriors put on a show in first Japan game originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Wizards have built a sizable following in the country of Japan thanks largely to Rui Hachimura. Japanese fans set their alarms at odd hours to watch Hachimura and his teammates play in United States time zones. On Friday morning, it was America's turn to throw their sleep schedules off, as the Wizards and Warriors tipped off at 6 a.m. ET in the first of two showcase games in Saitama, Japan.
Those who woke up early were treated to a fun game with no shortage of highlight plays. Wizards fans anxious to see how the new-look roster will fare should be encouraged by what they saw, particularly from Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. And Hachimura did his part with an impressive performance with the spotlight on his every move and a packed stadium cheering him on.
The overall shooting numbers naturally weren't pretty, as it was the first preseason warmup and featured players who are likely jet-lagged. The Wizards shot 31-for-83 (37.3%) from the field and 5-for-35 (14.3%) from three. The Warriors, known for their outside shooting, went just 7-for-23 (30.4%) from deep. The two teams made up for it with a collection of crowd-pleasing dunks.
The Wizards and Warriors will play again at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday morning before heading home.
Hachimura got the start
The Wizards and Warriors each have star players, in Golden State's case some all-time greats, but Hachimura is the face of basketball in Japan and that was evident on Friday morning, even for those watching the game thousands of miles away. Hachimura presented Stephen Curry with a bottle of his signature wine in a pregame ceremony, then produced oohs and aahs from the crowd with just about everything he did.
Hachimura got going in the first quarter with a tough layup over Draymond Green. That set an aggressive tone which he kept up throughout the game and led to him living at the free throw line. Hachimura would have scored more than 13 points if it weren't for him going 3-for-7 from the charity stripe. Hachimura also added nine rebounds and a steal.
Hachimura started at small forward, likely in large part due to the significance of the game but also two of the Wizards' candidates to start there on opening night were out. Deni Avdija missed the game as expected due to his groin injury, while Will Barton was a late scratch due to lower back tightness.
Beal and Porzingis
This was the first game Beal and Porzingis have played together, as Porzingis was acquired days after Beal's 2021-22 season was cut short due to left wrist surgery. This represented the baseline testing of how the Wizards' two best players will co-exist and, well, the early returns were good. Beal and Porzingis made a point to create for each other and they were largely successful in doing so. While it was the first game of the preseason, it's worth noting the defending-champion Warriors had the league's No. 1 defense last year.
Porzingis got Beal a bucket in the first quarter on a dribble hand-off where Beal swung around him at the 3-point line and found an open lane to the rim. In the second quarter, Beal, curved off a screen to a pass from Monte Morris and quickly fed Porzingis for an alley-oop with a smooth and accurate lob. Moments later, Porzingis caught a pass off a pindown and quickly fired to Beal for a corner three.
Beal had nine points and Porzingis finished with seven. There is a lot of potential between the two of them offensively and Friday morning represented a positive start. At their best, it could be a pick-your-poison situation for the defense and they made the most of it with decisive passes and crisp execution of plays.
Kuzma's offensive role
Kyle Kuzma, the Wizards' apparent third scoring option, is a key part of their offensive chemistry building and how he fits in alongside Beal and Porzingis will be worth watching. It may take some time to find a flow, given how last year he was much better once the offense ran through him following changes to their roster. Kuzma is at his best when he's aggressive off the dribble and that was the case in this one. Though he didn't shoot very well (3-9 FG, 1-5 3PT), he made a series of plays that displayed promise.
Kuzma was attacking in open space and in the first quarter fired a nice pass to Morris off a spin in the lane, Morris just missed his attempt from the corner. Kuzma then got hot briefly in the second quarter, starting with a pump fake from the 3-point line resulting in a vicious poster dunk. He followed that with a deep three with the defense set, a shot that showed the confidence he built late last year.
It's early, but Kyle Kuzma is looking really good in Japan. Making all the all-star plays. pic.twitter.com/B7n2ekUIoI
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) September 30, 2022
The Wizards should be happy about other signs they saw on Friday morning. Delon Wright forced turnovers, which he was signed in free agency to do. Wright had three blocks, plus a nice deflection off Andrew Wiggins' leg, which bounced the ball out of bounds and into the Wizards' possession. Wright also found Daniel Gafford for an alley-oop slam in the second half in what may have been a preview of their connection in the second unit.
Rookie first-round pick Johnny Davis played some at point guard, as the Wizards have a vacancy behind Wright. They also did not bring their exhibit-10 players on the trip, which took away some of their down-roster point guard depth. While Davis did little of note in the box score in 22 minutes, he looked quicker than he did in the Summer League. That's purely anecdotal, but it would also make sense given he was dealing with lower back tightness in Las Vegas, which affected his mobility.