While the Lakers acquired a number of players at the trade deadline, none of them exceeded expectations quite like Rui Hachimura did. Brought in for effectively a handful of second-round picks, Hachimura struggled a bit in the regular season before finding his footing and exploding in the playoffs.
The Lakers rewarded him handsomely in the offseason, something they always planned on doing, and it looks like Rui is ready to reward the franchise back. This offseason, Rui Hachimura spent the summer working out alongside LeBron James with the all-time scoring leader dubbing him his “understudy” as Darvin Ham revealed in Thursday’s media availability.
“Rui has become, we were laughing, Bron calls him ‘his understudy,’” Darvin Ham said. “He’s been with him all summer as much as possible, and I think that’s a great thing. He’s setting himself up to not just have a long career, but a long career at an extremely high level. And in terms of how he’ll be used, again, we have a team full of Swiss Army Knives, so he’s another player that can play multiple positions, that can score at three levels, that’s strong, physical, that made huge leaps and bounds defensively last year.
“As you saw in the Denver series, we were able to throw him on Jokic some, I expect nothing but big, big, big things from Rui this year. He’s still a young player, he still has different levels he can go to, and he’s already at an extremely high level. So we’ll figure it out, but he’ll definitely be deep in the mix.”
Rob Pelinka had similar high praise and expectations for Rui, noting his “personal renaissance” last season after joining the Lakers and how that will only serve as a launching pad.
“I think watching Rui come here after the trade sort of felt like a personal renaissance for him,” Pelinka said, “he just came alive as a player again, and he parlayed that this offseason with really incredible work. He spent most of his time training with LeBron, I think that was really intentional and I know the coaching staff and the front office, in the days where we’ve had some individual work in here, he’s playing with an extremely high level of confidence and belief.
“I think his strength and athleticism look like they’re at a different level. I think we got a taste, he shot over 40% in the playoffs, he’s a consistent, elite shooter, but I think he’s just literally hitting the takeoff of the flight he’s going to go on. So really, really excited that he’s in such a great place and has put in the work to have a huge year.”
Obviously, there’s no way Rui will continue the exact production he had in the playoffs 48.7% from the 3-point line on 39 attempts across the 16 games. But if he can continue to put himself in the positions he was in during that series and find the openings and opportunities he routinely did alongside Anthony Davis and LeBron, there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to be a big-time contributor.
In the LeBron Era, the Lakers have not had a wing his size, something LeBron took notice of right away. On top of being able to play off of LeBron and AD, he can allow the pair to rest more during the season as well with his versatility. He won’t completely replace their production and nor would he be asked to, but his presence and production will be enough to help ease the burden on the Lakers stars.
At just 25 years old, the future is still enormously bright for Rui and the Lakers are banking on him being an important piece of their’s. And now, he has a great nickname to boot.
LeBron and LeUnderstudy.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.