LOS ANGELES — On Wednesday evening after a win over the Spurs, Rui Hachimura sat down in the Crypto dot com Arena press room to field his first set of postgame questions as a Los Angeles Laker. After a round with the local beat crew, the presser proceeded for another 10 minutes or so, entirely in Japanese. For the remainder of his time on the podium, Hachimura answered at least three different Japanese-speaking reporters’ inquiries.
Over the past couple of seasons, no other Laker has received such treatment. Even Dennis Schroder, the Lakers’ other foreign national, who has had a considerably more successful career than Rui to date, occasionally receives questions in German, but only off to the side after the conclusion of his main presser.
Rui Hachimura’s response to being told Rakuten servers in Japan crashed during the Lakers game, due to the amount of folks who tried to watch his Lakers debut.— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) January 26, 2023
Rui said the Lakers are the biggest NBA team in Japan, so it’s a big deal that he’s playing in LA. pic.twitter.com/Ai2NFCSQin
By dint of his international stature alone, Rui Hachimura is a perfect fit for the superstar-laden Lakers. He’s failed to live up to his pre-draft promise so far, but getting his international appeal to the league’s biggest stage incentivizes Rui to do everything within his power to make it work in Los Angeles.
From a basketball perspective, the Lakers present much more fertile ground for Hachimura to grow his skills. As Spencer Dinwiddie said after a close loss to his former team, “They’re over there trying to get paid, not trying to play basketball.”
While that quote might be driven by more than a little bit of hyperbolic frustration, watch any recent Hachimura highlights from his time on the Wizards, and you will see players standing around the arc with their hands up calling for the ball whenever anyone else goes to shoot. Rui has been equal parts perpetrator and victim of this kind of stat-padding basketball. On the Lakers, Rui cannot feasibly beg for the ball from LeBron, AD, or Westbrook, setting him up to be a part of a better brand of team basketball than he’s been playing.
Since being drafted ninth overall by the Washington Wizards, Hachimura has broadly disappointed, as evidenced by his original team’s willingness to part ways with him before the conclusion of his rookie deal — and his market price of three second round picks and salary filler (Kendrick Nunn) forked over by the Lakers.
Coming out of Gonzaga almost four seasons ago, Rui Hachimura was one of the NBA’s most intriguing athletes in the 2019 NBA Draft. Standing 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan and a dense, chiseled frame, Rui’s most bullish common comp was the prototypical modern two-way superstar wing himself, Kawhi Leonard. However, more measured analysts saw his inattentiveness on defense and lack of offensive feel hampering his potential, comparing him to relatively lesser league vets like Antawn Jamison or Jabari Parker.
Through two games in the purple and gold, Hachimura’s scored 18 points on 15 shots along with 10 rebounds despite making just one of his seven 3-point attempts. He’s benefitted from playing beside superior playmaking in LA, having been assisted on six of his seven made field goals (by six different Lakers).
However, Rui’s struggles to shoot the ball from deep are somewhat concerning given his balky mechanics from range. Although his shot chart is too mixed to draw any clear conclusions — he’s been alternatively excellent or terrible from either wing and either corner — he shows tremendous touch from the mid-range, but doesn’t use his legs well or consistently and often comes up short on above-the-break threes (32.3% on the season). If he’s basically a no-go on anything but corner threes and middies, he won’t be the true 3-and-D floor-spacing wing that a championship version of the Lakers need (a la 2020 Danny Green).
Defensively, that same lower body immobility limits the breadth of his floor coverage. He sits too high in his defensive stance and doesn’t slide well, but, perhaps as importantly, he is an enormous human being. On-ball, he’s big enough to make an impact at his opponent’s release point even when he’s in imperfect position, though his effort waxed and waned in D.C. in ways that limited his impact even further. Still, he’s seemed to work a bit harder in his first two games with L.A., making his impact more meaningful than his 30th percentile yearlong D-LEBRON grade from BBall Index might suggest.
However, away from the ball is where things tend to really fall apart:
Off ball is where Hachimura struggled a bit— LAbound (@LAbound2) January 30, 2023
Tatum gets a step on Pat Bev after the ballscreen from Brogdon
The rotation here is too late and it’s a poor contest in general pic.twitter.com/HgSOcxdeoi
His rotations are too often tardy to make the most of his physical tools as a help defender. And after two games, it’s hard to say how much better buy-in to a team concept will help him in that department like it has on the ball. If he’s unable to read an NBA floor quickly enough to make snappy rotations and deploy his size and strength to its maximum utility.
If the Lakers do intend to extend Rui this offseason, they should do everything in their power to help him improve his lower body mobility and floor-reading skills, enabling his improvement as a deep 3-point shooter and off-ball defender before handing him the eight-figure deal he’s certainly seeking. Regardless of their intentions, assuming his good health and presence on the roster past the February 9 trade deadline, the Lakers will soon have a larger body of work to evaluate him by, giving them a better sense of how he should fit into the franchise moving forwards.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Post Production Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.