How Rui Hachimura fits in with the Lakers

How Rui Hachimura fits in with the Lakers

Signaling the start of the NBA trade season as the league nears its Feb. 9 deadline, the Washington Wizards are sending Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers for three second-round picks and Kendrick Nunn.

The Lakers, currently the 12th seed in the West, are 22-25 on the season but have worked their way to .500 with a 7-4 record since the start of the new year. With the imminent return of Anthony Davis and sitting just 2 games out of the 6th seed, the Lakers are gearing up for a mid-season push.

What does Hachimura bring to the Lakers? First of all, it’s a long-term talent play by the front office, which reportedly plans to re-sign him as a restricted free agent this summer.

The Lakers are pretty limited in assets with an aging roster. Adding Hachimura, a former lottery pick, brings in a player who can potentially become more than he has been in Washington. Injuries, personal issues, roster building, and positional depth at D.C. all contributed to a bumpy third and fourth NBA seasons after a promising start.

A new environment could greatly benefit Hachimura.

Part of the intrigue with Hachimura for the Lakers is his intersection of size and shooting. The Lakers have 4 regular rotation players who are taller than 6’6: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Thomas Bryant and Wenyen Gabriel. Of those 4, LeBron is the only player who is normally protected as an outside threat.

Bryant has excelled as Los Angeles’ starting five with Davis sidelined, but the Lakers’ lack of shooting, and more importantly, size with shooting ability, has been an issue dating back to the season. pass. Carmelo Anthony was the only front line player on the roster last season who shot above league average from three on high volume off of James. Space issues have been even more apparent this season with Anthony out.

That space problem has led James to play more minutes at 4 over the past two seasons than at any time during his first three years in Los Angeles or during his second stint in Cleveland. While he played 50 percent or more of his minutes at 4 in his last two years in Miami according to Glass Clean, 74 percent of his total possessions played this season have been at 4, with a negligible number at 4. 3.

While James isn’t quite as nimble as he once was, much of him playing the 4 is a byproduct of not having a capable stretch player manning the 4 spot. LeBron playing the 3 this season has mostly not been feasible. , since even when the Lakers play a smaller player at 4, they’re not respected as a shooting threat and, frankly, they shouldn’t be.

At 6-foot-8 and with improved shooting volume over the past two seasons, Hachimura could be part of the answer to Los Angeles’ roster-building woes. While his shooting has been cold since above half-time this season, Hachimura lights up the corners, shooting 48.3% on corner 3-pointers this year and 42.2% on corner 3-pointers since the start of the 2020 season. -21, according to InStat Scan. He has shot 37.9% from deep (107/282) on all catch-and-shoot 3s in the same period of time.

It should not be expected to do three moves or be used in sets that require it to do so. That’s not part of your game currently. However, he has gotten better at relocating and lifting while ball handlers drive, something he struggled with in previous years.

This is not something we would have routinely seen from him a year or two ago, picking up and moving into space while Deni Avdija cuts, taking advantage of how the defense reacts. It’s a bit trivial, but it matters. The shot is a miss, but again, the relocation off the rebound is noticeable as he gets another try, this time with a good look.

Hachimura has never taken more 3-pointers than midrange shots in his career, and that’s something I’d hope to change, as the Lakers need him to scout and muster more volume as a shooter, while requiring less of him creating on the ball. .

Adding a player with size who can shoot should bring more offensive ability to play LeBron James as the three, which in turn can create better distribution and put more pressure on the defense. The Lakers have had to rely mostly on James posting to lure two defenders and hopefully build from there, and while I doubt they’ll go away from that entirely, there should be better options to make a defense think when Hachimura and James they share the field. .

It will also be notable how Hachimura finds his own offense. He has the ability to tackle and drive deftly, play from the post and be effective on cuts, but I hope the last of the three is where he finds the most impact from him. He’s never been a great cutter or impactful offensive rebounder and I’d love to see the Lakers script to duck and take aggression out on him in the paint. He has shot 75.8% at the basket over the past two seasons, and putting Hachimura downhill on the roll or on a slice is the optimal way to get the most out of his frame and touch around the basket.

The final deciding factor for Hachimura’s effectiveness this season will be how he deploys defensively and how impactful he is within that role. To put it plainly, Hachimura is not a good defender. He has a lot of difficulties as a help defender, often getting cut back, losing to his man without the ball, and generally being aware of him without the ball. His closing paths tend to be difficult, he takes poor angles to get around screens, and can be outplayed by smaller players. Simply put, there are a lot of things that need to be cleaned up here and given Darvin Ham’s demands on the defensive end, Hachimura will need to step up to be a trusted and important rotation piece.

What Hachimura does have going for him is his build, length, and solid athleticism. I’d really like to see (and hope) the Lakers try to empower him as a primary defender. He sounds counterintuitive, but using the size of him and having him focus on attacking the player with the ball, instead of letting them take him off the ball to get caught while he watches the ball, would be better. We’ve seen wings/forwards in similar molds taking up this mantle in years past: TJ Warren in his first season with the Pacers, Kyle Kuzma with the Lakers during their title run, Memphis with Dillon Brooks early in his pro career. They are different players for sure, but the same thought process exists for finding ways to minimize the damage to your defense while also finding a role where a player can grow and thrive defensively. While Rui isn’t on the same path yet, it’s pretty simple to imagine.

The Lakers gave up a minimal package in this deal and there is reason for optimism with an immediate return. More importantly, this is a long-term play for a team in need of some upside and a player in need of a new situation, and there may be an even more fruitful lead for both if things work out.

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