Exploring Rui Hachimura's fit with the Los Angeles Lakers

Exploring Rui Hachimura's fit with the Los Angeles Lakers

If you had the Los Angeles Lakers bolstering their forward room before the trade deadline — and sending off multiple future picks to do it — you can pat yourself on the back.

Don't pat too hard, though, because I doubt you had this deal on the bingo card. 

On Monday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers were acquiring former lottery pick Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and three second round picks — a 2023 second via Chicago (looking real top-40ish), the least favorable of LA or Washington's 2028 second rounder and LA's 2029 second-rounder.

More of a starter trade than a star trade, but you have to crawl before you walk.

The optics of this deal aren't great for Washington; it's not fun trading away a somewhat recent top-10 pick for three second-rounders and a bench guard you don't have long-term belief in. That doesn't mean the move was thoughtless.

Replacing Hachimura's salary with Nunn's makes the Wizards' tax figure a little easier to deal with this season — they're now $1.3 million below the tax line, per Keith Smith — which could make them a candidate for more deals before the deadline. And if there was no intention of retaining Hachimura in the offseason, it's best to get something for him.

(And speaking of the offseason: It's clear the Wizards are gearing up to retain Kyle Kuzma, the former Laker who's blossomed into a multifaceted player.)

The Laker side is more fun to think about.

They've needed reinforcements for a while, especially in the frontcourt. Prior to the deal, LeBron James was really the only bulky, athletic forward on the roster. The slight-bodied nature of the Lakers' wing/forward room has been an issue all season long. Hachimura won't solve that by himself, but he serves as a step in the right direction.

I'm curious to see how Hachimura slots in defensively. He's a mixed bag on the non-glamour end, able to bang and slide with 4s, and manage well enough against 3s. At worst, he should be able to funnel twitchier wings inside to Anthony Davis once he makes his return. 

To be clear, the Lakers do not (or at least should not) view Hachimura as an on-ball stopper. If he can serve as an innings eater of sorts, that will allow LeBron and Davis (when healthy) to patrol the back line. The collective size and length of those three — combined with the screen navigation they get up top from Dennis Schroder — should be the foundation of a solid defensive unit.

Beyond his stature, Hachimura's skill set should be useful for the Lakers. He's a load to deal with when getting downhill. That really shines through in transition, where he's generated 1.19 points per possession (PPP) on transition opportunities over the past two seasons per InStat tracking.

The Lakers rank sixth in the league in transition frequency per Cleaning The Glass, and seventh in the league in pace. Their willingness to push off misses and turnovers should vibe well with Hachimura. That intention picks up when Russell Westbrook is on the floor, an important note considering their time together in Washington.

In the half-court, expect Hachimura to make his money as a complementary piece. He's shown the ability to punish sloppy closeouts by mixing in strong drives with mid-range pull-ups. 

His propensity for turnarounds lead to underwhelming results against mismatches, but he's still someone teams shouldn't feel comfortable stashing smaller players against.

The swing skill for Hachimura will be his three-ball. This is a Laker team starved of reliable shooters — not just in terms of efficiency, but players that defenses allocate extra attention to. Hachimura hasn't accomplished the latter yet, and his efficiency has continued to fluctuate.

He drilled 44.7% of his threes last season, and was even better when filtering for catch-and-shoot looks (47.0%). The volume just wasn't high enough for it to matter (2.7 catch-and-shoot attempts on 2.9 overall per game), especially when considering his previous reputation. It doesn't help that Hachimura is down to 33.3% on catch-and-shoot looks this season, in line with the first two seasons of his career (32.1%). 

In order for this trade to pop offensively, Hachimura will have to ramp up his aggression against smaller defenders — someone with Hachimura's physical gifts drawing 38 shooting fouls over his last 70 games is hard to reckon with — or become a much more willing (and efficient) shooter from deep. Ideally, the Lakers get both, and I don't think either is out of the question.

Hachimura has shooting touch worth believing in. It's also not like Hachimura has dealt with the cleanest path of half-court development once you factor in roster changes, coaching changes and the start-and-stop nature of his availability the past three seasons. 

With the Lakers, he'll have space to explore. LeBron will always draw two to the ball. There will be catch-and-shoot chances and catch-and-drive pockets. 

Zooming out, this is a reasonable gamble for the Lakers considering the price point. If you can get someone with Hachimura's skill set and traits while giving up one (1) asset of moderate consequence (Chicago's second rounder), it's worth exploring.

Though Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers plan to retain Hachimura for the long haul, they also didn't give up enough to "force" them into that decision if he proves to be a poor fit.

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