Rui Hachimura had opened Thursday night's game against the Nets by shooting just 3-for-10 from the field, showing no indication he was gearing up for a fourth-quarter takeover.
But once the fourth quarter began in Brooklyn, Hachimura shook off his early misses and found a rhythm en route to 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the final frame. He made his final five shots, including three dunks and a three with a minute-and-a-half to go that effectively put the game out of reach.
The 13-point fourth quarter capped off a season-high 20 points for Hachimura, who was the Wizards' top scorer in their 117-103 win over the Nets. They entered the fourth tied at 78-78, only to outscore Brooklyn by 14 points the rest of the way.
"Everybody was sharing the ball and we had a good flow," Hachimura said. "There was good momentum. I was trying to be aggressive and that's what happened."
It was just the 18th game of the season for Hachimura, who missed the first two-plus months due to personal reasons. Him getting up to speed has been a gradual process. He started out playing roughly 15 minutes per game and has since worked his way up into the 20s, the whole time coming off the bench.
That process was disrupted by a right ankle sprain which caused him to miss Wednesday's game in Indiana. He showed no signs of being injured in his return against the Nets.
Hachimura shot 8-for-15 for the game, including 2-for-2 from three. The turnaround from beginning the game 3-for-10 impressed his head coach Wes Unseld Jr.
"It's just an issue of confidence. I think once you see that ball go in, you get more and more confident. If you're taking the right shots, make or miss, your teammates are going to trust you to do it and we as a staff trust you to do it. I want him to stay aggressive," Unseld said.
Hachimura's 3-point shot has shown noticeable progress this season. After making each of his two attempts on Thursday, he is now 18-for-39 on the year overall. That's good for 46.2%, best among Wizards regulars.
It is also up considerably from the 31.3% he shot for his career entering this season. He shot 28.7% from three as a rookie in 2019-20, raised it to 32.8% last season and this year is off to a scorching start.
It took some time for Hachimura to get his bearings this season after a long absence, but the upward trajectory in his development is starting to emerge. He's 24 years old and in his third NBA season, yet he has only played in 123 total games. That's the equivalent of about a season-and-a-half.
Ish Smith recently rejoined the Wizards at the trade deadline and is one of the few players on the roster who has been around Hachimura each year he's been in the league. He was asked about Hachimura's improvement on the court and made sure to note how he has made strides off of it as well
"Rui, he's just got the joy back... I can see that smile again, I can see that laugh, I can see that joy," Smith said. "Rui's a special player. He's been a special player the first two years I was here with him and now you guys are seeing him just continue to grow and get better."
The Wizards traded away four veteran players at the deadline and in doing so have essentially handed the keys over to a collection of young players. Hachimura has an opportunity for the rest of this season to develop in a larger role. Already, he seems to be taking advantage.