Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we'll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Rui Hachimura
When the Lakers traded Kendrick Nunn and multiple second-round picks for Rui Hachimura, it was the first of multiple moves that turned the season around and set them on a trajectory for a Western Conference Finals run and in position to be one of the teams to contend for a title in the 2022/23 season.
In 33 games with the Lakers, Hachimura averaged 9.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 29% from three. That might not seem like numbers to excite fans but when watching the games, you saw him performing well the more opportunities he was given and his efficiency inside the three was sensational. In other words, the eye test was far more exciting than the stats sheet.
In the playoffs, the eye test and the stat sheet started to match. Hachimura proved himself to be a 16-game player, averaging 12.2 points and shooting 48% from three. As the stakes increased, Hachimura continued to shine, going 8-11 from the field in Game 1 against Denver and following that up with an 8-10 night in Game 2.
When the time came for Hachimura to test free agency, the Lakers quickly re-signed him with a three-year $51 million dollar contract. With a new contract in hand and the Lakers balancing out "running it back" with recent acquisitions like Jaxson Hayes and Taurean Prince, what will Hachimura look like in his first full season with the Lakers?
What is his best-case scenario?
If everything breaks Hachimura's way, he will have a career year for the Lakers. He'll be the Lakers' best wing option, starting games, closing games and playing 25-plus minutes, putting up 15 points and 6.5 rebounds on 45% shooting from three.
LeBron James and Rui Hachimura completing more work with Phil Handy pic.twitter.com/b6b63m52hs— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) October 5, 2023
He's well on his way to this best-case scenario, having worked out extensively with Phil Handy and LeBron James during the off-season. In fact, LeBron referred to Hachimura as "his understudy." Having one of the best players ever to play and one of the team's leaders refer to you with that kind of reverence has to be a good thing and a sign of a huge upside.
So far, he's demonstrated this potential during the preseason, averaging 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and shooting from beyond the arch at a 41.7% clip. If these numbers can bear out, Hachimura will be a fan favorite all season long.
What is his worst-case scenario?
What if the idea of Hachimura is better than what he is night in and night out during an 82-game season?
His three-point shot falls under 30%, he's too much of a defensive liability and he's not a starter or a "super sub" off the bench, but on the lower end of the rotation. Hachimura has already discussed some of these concerns with the media during training camp.
"You guys saw in the playoffs, you know I was guarding literally 2-5," Hachimura told the media after a preseason practice. "Those kinds of stuff I've been doing since I've gotten in the league; it's nothing new, but you know I still got to improve a lot of stuff defensively."
Unless his production falls off the face of the earth, Hachimura will have a role on this team, but whether he's closer to his best or worst-case scenario will dictate what that role will be. The question is, which version of himself will he be?
What is his most likely role on the team?
The good news is, I think Hachimura's current trajectory has him primed for a career year. He's put in the work in the offseason and has started the preseason putting up numbers that would rival his best season.
The biggest question is, will Hachimura begin as a starter or the first off the bench?
We won't ever know how he truly feels about this scenario (I'd go out on a limb and say most players want to start). Still, Hachimura has mentioned that more important than starting is finishing games, being one of the five players on the floor when the stakes are the highest and the pressure is real.
Personally, I think the Lakers will likely start with Taurean Prince, who has been rumored to have the inside track on that starting spot at least to begin the season, but ultimately, the season is long and who starts Game 1 might not be who starts in Game 82.
Keep in mind the Lakers started Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV, Russell Westbrook, LeBron and Anthony Davis last season and two of those players were traded and Walker was relegated to the bench by the second half of the season.
Even with a team with so much continuity, things are fluid and will likely change based on performance, injuries and other factors. Hachimura will have his chances to be a star in his role and that role right now looks to be as big as a key starter on a championship team. He'll have to limit his defensive mistakes, shoot well from three and continue being a mid-range assassin to be the perfect wing to pair alongside Bron and AD.
We all see his potential; the time is now for him to reach it.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.