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Lakers vs. Spurs Preview: Rui Hachimura makes his debut

All eyes will be on the newest member of the team tonight

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been quite a busy start to the week for the Lakers, who finally made a trade and acquired Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. The trade was made official on Monday as Hachimura is set to make his debut with the purple and gold against the San Antonio Spurs tonight.

Before we preview Rui’s first game as a Laker, let me just say that this is the perfect union between a quality role player in Hachimura, who badly needed a new home and situation and a team that desperately had to make a trade in hopes to improve their roster and save their season. Hachimura doesn’t automatically make the Lakers title contenders, but given what the team gave up, this trade already looks good for Los Angeles in terms of their short and long-term goals.

The 24-year-old slots in the forward role, which has been a position of void for the Lakers over the past two seasons. Hachimura, who is averaging 13 points and 4.3 rebounds a game this season, is a 6‘8 wing-forward who offers athleticism, versatility, force, height, physicality, and shooting. While his advanced stats aren’t necessarily a sight for sore eyes, Rui has the potential to make an instant impact by improving the team’s overall shooting and defense in general.

According to InStat Scouting, Hachimura loves letting the ball fly from the corners, where he shot 48.3% last season and 42.4% on catch-and-shoot attempts. Although his overall three-point shot attempts (3.0 a game this season) aren’t convincing by any means, he’s proven that catch-and-shoot opportunities are his bread and butter where he’s converted 107 out of 282 (37.9%) of his attempts since the start of the 2020-2021 season.

Aside from his corner three-point attempts, a huge part of Rui’s game is the midrange department. The Gonzaga University product is an impressive midrange spot-up shooter as he ranks 74 percentile in midrange shotmaking per the Bball-index database. Add that to his ability to get in transition, impose his physicality inside the paint and finish at the rim at a decent rate, the Japanese native has the potential to offer a whole lot to this roster.

That said, as the newest Laker makes his debut tonight, here are two key factors to look out for moving forward:

What’s Rui’s role going to be like?

On Tuesday, Ham reiterated in his pre-game presser that Hachimura checks the box on several areas for the Lakers. I’m interested to see what role the first-year head coach has in store for his new piece. Is Hatchimura going to be a starter right off the bat? Will he really lessen Ham’s inkling of using multiple guard-oriented lineups?

With Anthony Davis’ improbable return on Wednesday, Ham can go with a bigger starting lineup of AD, Hatchimura, LeBron, Pat Beverley, and Dennis Schröder — or simply just bring the newest Laker off the bench alongside his old pal, Russell Westbrook.

Another factor to look out for is how Hachimura is going to be deployed on the defensive end. The Lakers’ most glaring weakness on defense is that they rely too much on their short guards to cover the opposing team’s wing-oriented players — which hasn’t worked for the most part as we saw how Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had their way on Tuesday. Will Ham utilize Rui as a wing stopper? A point-of-attack defender on the perimeter or as an anchor big? Wednesday’s game should give us an idea of this.

How fast does Rui get acclimated to his new role and team?

The Lakers will be the second team Rui’s been on as the first-round pick in the 2019 Draft has spent the past four years of his career in DC. Getting traded in the middle of the regular season is not an easy task for any player, and it’s going to be a test for Hachimura to adapt and fit in in his new role quickly. The question is, can Rui immediately contribute while he adjusts to a new coach, team, bright lights and expectations?

The Lakers have finally made a trade and acquired a wing-forward that the team has long needed. According to Rob Pelinka, they’re still finding ways to get better and it’s quite possible that Rui might not be the only new face in town. Only time will reveal what else is in store for the Lakers in terms of roster movement, but for tonight, all eyes will be on Rui Hachinmura.

Notes and Updates

  • After winning two straight games, the Lakers dropped their 10th straight loss to the L.A. Clippers (133-115) on Tuesday. This disappointing loss puts the Lakers (22-26) back on the 13th seed of the Western Conference. To say that the trade couldn’t come soon enough is an understatement at this point, especially for a team that badly needs as many wins as possible moving forward.
  • LeBron James’ 46-point night against the Clippers was unfortunately not enough to propel the Lakers to victory. But at the very least, The King set a new record again on Tuesday as he became the only player in NBA history to have a 40-point game against every franchise. James has 117 points to go to dethrone Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time scoring leader.
  • The Lakers will be on the back end of a back-to-back against the Spurs on Wednesday, where they have a record of 3-4 when playing on the second night. They’ve so far beaten the Spurs thrice this season so tonight’s game will give them the opportunity to sweep the series.
  • No injury report has been released yet for the Lakers. However, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that AD is set to return to action tonight (in limited minutes) after being sidelined with a foot injury for over a month. This is definitely good news for the Lakers, who are thankfully getting healthier as each game passes.
  • On that note, still expect Lonnie Walker (knee) and Austin Reaves (hamstring) to be out tonight. Although The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported that Reaves has started participating in non-contact activities.
  • As for the Spurs, Devin Vassel (left knee) is out while Romeo Langford (left adductor) is questionable.
  • For news around the league, in case you missed it, there’s going to be a significant change in this year’s All-Star game as team captains (which will be announced this coming Thursday) will draft their players moments before the game commences. You can read more about that here.

The Lakers and Spurs will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will be televised only on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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