Rui Hachimura made his much-anticipated Lakers debut on Wednesday against the Spurs, checking in midway through the first quarter to a loud ovation from the Crypto.com Arena crowd.
Hachimura had a solid debut, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in his 22 minutes off the bench. More impressive was his team-high plus-17.
Hachimura did a lot of things to contribute to the Lakers’ 113-104 win that didn’t show up in the box score, hinting after just one game at what kind of value he can bring to the team.
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Rui Hachimura stepped up when LeBron James sat down
The Lakers kept Hachimura’s role relatively simple on offense when he shared the floor with James. His job was mostly to stay in the corners or above the break on the 3-point line and stretch out the opposing defense.
When James sat, his role increased, which was not a surprising development considering the Lakers have generally fallen apart on offense in James-free minutes. Their 106.7 offensive rating with him off the floor is worse than the league-worst Hornets.
They leaned heavily on Hachimura, designing two plays specifically for him to clear out the entire left side and let him work in the post. Hachimura scored on a nifty baseline fadeaway jumper on the first and was fouled on a monstrous dunk attempt on the second.
That left block area is Hachimura’s best spot on the court. He has shot 49 percent from there over the course of his career.
The first play that Lakers coach Darvin Ham ran for Hachimura is what is known as a Hawk Cut. That action allowed him to run off a screen from guard Dennis Schroder to get open and receive the ball in his favorite spot.
This cut will likely be an action that the Lakers use for Hachimura again in the future, as it opens up a passing angle to get him the ball near the left block. That is a good sign that the coaching staff already has come up with ideas to utilize the best parts of his game.
Hachimura’s comfort with Westbrook was also readily apparent. Westbrook was directing Hachimura into that left block area throughout the game, trying to connect with him for a half-court alley-oop pass and getting him an open corner 3-pointer when the defense wasn’t yet prepared.
The Lakers want Rui Hachimura to crash the offensive glass
The Lakers are not a good offensive rebounding team, ranking 24th in the league in offensive rebounds per game. They seem to want to change that with Hachimura.
They were very frequently sending him in on what are called corner crashes, when players run in from the corners to try and get offensive rebounds. They would also occasionally send him from the slot above the 3-point line to the glass.
Hachimura was only credited with one offensive rebound on a possession in which he out-jumped the rest of the pack to tip the ball to James, but this is an example of the box score being very deceptive.
Hachimura was wreaking havoc on the glass. He forced the ball out of bounds by tipping it off one of the Spurs’ players, got fouled and tipped a number of other balls. He created multiple extra possessions for the Lakers.
He’s a very good athlete that should be able to out-jump defenders, and it looks as though the Lakers are going to test that theory out.
Rui Hachimura is going to make a difference in transition and with his energy
Hachimura was all over the court in his 20 minutes. He ended up on the floor twice in order to save loose balls. Those types of hustle plays should make him a fan favorite quickly.
Hachimura was also making a big difference by simply running the floor hard. Turning and sprinting ahead in transition allowed him to pick up easy layups, including one off a bounce pass from James.
Even when he wasn’t the one scoring the ball on a fast break, he was taking up the attention of defenders and allowing teammates like Thomas Bryant to come in behind him for easy layups.
Anthony Davis covered up Rui Hachimura’s weaknesses on defense
Hachimura is a great scorer, but one of the big reasons why he had trouble staying on the floor in Washington was because of his defensive limitations.
Those were still on display at times in his Lakers debut, but he had one of the best defensive players in the game to clean up his mistakes. Hachimura allowed his man to get past him on the perimeter multiple times, but Davis was ready to help.
Hachimura no longer has to play perfectly on defense. Even in the event that he makes a mistake, he has a teammate that can erase an error.
It’s only been one game, but the returns are already looking promising on Hachimura fitting better with the Lakers than he ever did on the Wizards.