With Lakers, former Gonzaga standout Rui Hachimura quickly finds his niche
Feb. 2, 2023 Updated Fri., Feb. 3, 2023 at 10:37 a.m.
NEW YORK — The Lakers traded for Rui Hachimura needing size on the wing. Hardly anyone talked about his speed.
The 25-year-old managed to catch the Knicks off guard on Tuesday night, easily getting behind their transition defense twice in the first quarter for buckets right at the rim.
Hachimura most importantly brings the Lakers his 6-foot-8 frame, critical for a team without size. One of the reasons LeBron James said Tuesday night he’d rather have Hachimura “fit out” than “fit in” is because the Lakers need the different dimensions that he brings. But the quickest way the Japanese-born forward has blended into the team (and ingratiated his superstar teammates) is by running the floor, where he’s been ruthlessly effective.
“I always tell my guys, the only mistake that you can make with me and my staff and our team is to not play hard and not compete and not be aggressive,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “So he did just that, settled in, and he just played basketball.”
Prior to Thursday’s game against Indiana, the former Gonzaga standout has taken 40 shots in four games, and more than a quarter of those have been early clock attempts – a testament to his hustle down the floor and his ability to be a big transition target. He’s also been fouled five times at the rim. It’s a good way to solidify his playing time on a team that is No. 5 in the NBA in fast-break points (16.7 per game).
Hachimura says offense has been easy since he’s come to L.A. Having top-flight distributors in James and Russell Westbrook doesn’t hurt, either.
“Those guys get all the defensive attention so I have a lot of easy looks, in either transition of the half court,” he said. “So, yeah, I love playing with those guys.”
Scoring isn’t all Hachimura has brought, either. Lineups with him on the floor have been defensively taut, and according to NBA tracking data, Julius Randle shot just 3 for 10 on possessions when Hachimura was guarding him (though he did draw four fouls during the night).
The early returns have created intrigue around the frontcourt that the Lakers started on Tuesday night: Hachimura, James and Anthony Davis, giving the Lakers big bodies. After a season deploying a lot of three-guard lineups, it could be a compelling group: In 78 possessions tracked by stat site Cleaning The Glass, lineups with the James-Davis-Hachumura trio have a plus-12.9 net rating.
It’s not entirely clear how Ham will manipulate his lineups once the Lakers are fully healthy – Hachimura’s move into the starting group in the last two games was brought on in part because of injury. While he missed Tuesday’s game, veteran guard Patrick Beverley has started all 42 games he’s played in, and Dennis Schröder has been similarly entrenched (starts in 35 of 38). Of the starting group, Troy Brown Jr. has been the most variable, starting just 28 of 46 games.
Just having the option, however, seems like a comfort to the Laker locker room. James called Hachimura “super cool,” and appreciated how natural the fit has been so far.
“Very low key, low maintenance, but his ability and what he can bring to our team, we need him to showcase that every night for us,” James said. “Me and A.D. said be aggressive from the very beginning, and he was that all the way to the very end, finishing off his performance with that block. So, it’s a great piece to have, and we’re lucky to have him.”
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