Home Sports Rui Hachimura Helps, but the Lakers Can’t Contend without Another Trade

Rui Hachimura Helps, but the Lakers Can’t Contend without Another Trade


Rui Hachimura

Rui HachimuraElsa/Getty Images

On a night in which LeBron James registered his first triple-double of the season and moved into fourth place on the NBA’s all-time assist leaderboard, the performance that may have greater implications for the Los Angeles Lakers’ longterm prospects was Rui Hachimura’s.

Just over a week after the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Hachimura for Kendrick Nunn and future second-round picks, he scored 19 points and was plus-4 in L.A.’s 129-123 win over the New York Knicks.

The victory in Madison Square Garden moved the Lakers to within four games of a .500 record and within two games of the play-in tournament. And it offered a glimpse of how Hachimura changes the geometry of the floor for L.A.

Throughout his increasingly legendary career, LeBron has found success as perhaps the most dangerous slash-and-kick weapon we’ve ever seen. Even in his 20th NBA season, LeBron can break the seal of a perimeter defense in a way few can. And once he’s inside, he has the size, vision and strength to hit the best option on a kickout.

Of course, that assumes good options are on the floor with LeBron. And that just hasn’t been the case for long stretches of this campaign.

Heading into Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, the Lakers were 26th in the league in three-point percentage and dead last in threes made per 100 possessions.

Since the start of 2021-22, Hachimura has averaged 1.2 threes in just 23.3 minutes, while shooting 39.4 percent from deep. If that keeps up, he’ll help L.A. in each of the aforementioned team categories.

And if Tuesday was any indication, he should indeed be able to keep it up.

Hachimura went 2-of-4 from three against the Knicks and looked comfortable playing floor spacer and flanking LeBron’s drives, but that wasn’t all he brought.

Before and since the trade, Hachimra has scored with above-average efficiency in transition, and he could get even more opportunities there as LeBron’s teammate.

The Lakers are second in the league in pace of play, and Hachimura is already benefitting from that characteristic of his new team.

Tuesday, he got a run-out jam delivered by Russell Westbrook…


Russ steal.
Rui dunk.

Lakers are off to a hot start on TNT. pic.twitter.com/j37ncDGvOP

…and another from LeBron.


LeBron finds Rui for the jam! 🔨

👑: 20 PTS, 8 REB, 10 AST

Lakers lead 101-96 on TNT. pic.twitter.com/XsdMq0Dy4h

What he hasn’t shown as much of is his in-between game (though he hit two mid-range jumpers against New York). And though he may not need to on a team with LeBron and Anthony Davis, knowing that potential escape valve is there should help.

Still, good vibes from the win notwithstanding, it’s hard to avoid the wide-lens perspective on this team.

Again, it’s four games below .500. Even in a year when parity has seemingly leveled the playing field in the middle of the West, the Lakers are outside the play-in picture. LeBron is currently defying Father Time, but he’s 38. Availability isn’t guaranteed for him, and it’s certainly not for AD.

And though Russell Westbrook has settled nicely into his reserve role, off-ball lapses on defense and questionable late-game decision-making are still too common. L.A. is minus-9.4 points per 100 clutch (defined by the league as the final five minutes of games within five points) possessions when Westbrook is on the floor.

If the Lakers can package his expiring contract with a first-round pick (or two) for another player (or players) who checks some of the same boxes as Hachimura, L.A. can go from fringe play-in team to the squad that no one wants to see in a seven-game series.

There’s obviously some variability in price for each of the following, but…

Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, a handful of Toronto Raptors, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Bojan Bogdanović, Alec Burks, Doug McDermott and a handful of Utah Jazz players…

…could all be available before the February 9 trade deadline.

And of course, even after Myles Turner reached an agreement on an extension with the Indiana Pacers this month, the “Westbrook and the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks for Turner and Buddy Hield” rumor won’t die.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the deal doesn’t affect Turner’s trade eligibility, and Tyrese Haliburton’s recent absence has contributed to Indiana falling outside the East’s top 10. Now is the moment for the Pacers to lean into the rebuild, and the Lakers can be the beneficiary.

A lineup with LeBron, Hield, Hachimura, AD and Turner, at least in theory, can accomplish a lot of what made L.A. champions in 2020.

With Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, that team employed the “LeBron and shooters” philosophy we’ve seen dominate for years, but it could also beat people up inside with lineups that paired Davis with Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee.

Imagine all of the above, plus Turner’s ability to hit threes (something that Howard and McGee certainly weren’t providing).

It’s easy to justify sitting on those 2027 and 2029 picks. Even with trades for any of the aforementioned potential targets, there’s no guarantee L.A. cracks the contenders’ tier.

But at this point in LeBron’s storied career, you can’t take any individual season for granted. He’s earned the front-office aggression it takes to compete for championships. And while the Hachimura trade helps, it shouldn’t be the last move these Lakers make.

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