Midway through the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-104 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, head coach Durbin Hamm called rookie Rui Hachimura’s left block post-up twice. Hamm often rolls out these post-actions for Anthony Davis, but he wanted to see what he had in his newest weapon, Hachimura.
After missing 20 games with a right leg injury, Davis found himself in a long-awaited comeback.
“I have to talk to my coach about this,” joked Davis. “But tonight there is also a play that ran for (Hachimura). ‘AD, you go to the corner.’ ‘Okay…'”
Davis was sold after seeing Hachimura foul on two possessions. Then the Lakers started touting a player who had just acquired Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks from the Washington Wizards.
“I just told him, ‘If you don’t double, don’t pass.’ You go to work,” Davis said. “So he went.”
Hachimura’s Lakers debut was promising. His numbers matched his averages in Washington: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes. Those numbers aren’t spectacular, but he showed elements of the game the Lakers had been missing since his 2019-20 title his season. Hachimura played like a spiritual successor to the hybrid forward role played by Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris that season, playing multiple positions, both dribbling and post, finishing in transition. The Lakers outscored the Spurs by 17 points, with Yassoura flooring the best mark on the team.
It was just one game against the 14-35 Spurs, who own one of the NBA’s four worst records. Growing pains inevitably occur. But Hachimura already looks to make a potential difference for the Lakers.
“I think he will be a great asset for us for the rest of the year,” Hamm said.
This is one of the two post-ups referenced by Davis (for the record: Davis was on the opposite wing, not the opposite corner). Dennis Schrader sets a lip screen on Hachimura and starts post-up on the left block. Hachimura is a Spurs defender. Hachimura then dribbled into the paint where he twice spun backwards and Bates caught his Diop in a smooth turnaround.
Davis, LeBron James and sometimes Russell Westbrook are the only Lakers with such smooth scoring ability.
Hachimura’s post-up is unlikely to become a crunch-time staple, but the Lakers can rely on it if they have a smaller second-unit lineup or use smaller defenders against him.
“I called his number a few times to get the ball in the post,” Hamm said. “He’s good at playing midrange and when he goes to the rim he plays hard.”
Hachimura ranks 48th in NBA post-ups per game, averaging just 1.4, according to NBA.com/Stats. However, he ranks his 16th among these players in his goal percentage on the field in post-ups (55.6%), suggesting the Lakers could unlock more with him in the block. I’m here.
Transition play was another area where Hachimura was immediately effective. He ran well through the lanes and maintained good spacing, fitting in with the Lakers’ run-first approach.
Watch two plays in this clip. Each shows Hachimura starting behind a few players, accelerating past them, and transitioning into the target of his ball-handler. On the first play he drew a foul. Scored the second time. Both finishes were awkward due to his mishandling of passes, but as he and his teammates adjust to each other, they are able to work out those kinks.
“I like to play fast,” Hachimura said. “Obviously here at the Lakers, they — we — like to play fast. I can push, so I can push the ball, so I think it’s great.”
Hachimura’s court vision and playmaking are areas of his game that need improvement. He is a shoot-first player who is more of a finisher than an initiator. However, as shown in the possession below, he can launch attacks on others in certain situations. James is open for about a second and a half before Hachimura finds out. Still, the Spurs realize their mission too late, so Hachimura is able to find James before Doug McDermott finishes.
It’s a quick read, albeit late. But it works, and it’s part of the game Hachimura can wrestle while learning from generational passers like James and Westbrook.
Hachimura was essentially thrown into the fire as most players have just been traded mid-season. He briefly explained the Lakers’ offensive sets and his system of defense with his assistant coach during the team’s walkthrough Wednesday morning. Otherwise, he mostly relied on instinct. This further highlights how he naturally fills the void as a big, athletic, attack-minded all-around guy.
“He’s been there to play the right way and we’ve watched him over the years. He’s a perfect fit,” Hamm said. “He’ll go and he’s not going to run into anyone else’s space if someone else is looking for an opportunity to score, or if the play call is for them. He spaces it the right way, he cuts when he needs to cut, and he just plays within himself.”
Players put in new situations usually try to be more respectful and adaptable at first.Hachimura ended just 13.6% of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor Wednesday. That’s 18-20 percent of his annual average in Washington. He inevitably becomes more comfortable and begins to spread his wings aggressively, so to speak. He sometimes takes questionable shots. His defensive commitment was an issue in Washington, but he was active and focused in many of the Spurs’ games. It remains to be seen if he will stay healthy as the season progresses.
But it soon became clear that the trio of Davis, James and Hachimura at the forefront were big enough and versatile enough to challenge most opponents. I’m having a hard time defending James and Davis with players of the same size. Hachimura is often played against the smallest or worst of the three defenders in the frontcourt, and is a player available by shooting over in the post or midrange. Again, think about the role Morris played in his 2020, or what his twin brother Marcus played with his LA Clippers.
Hachimura’s presence didn’t do away with the Lakers’ troubled three-guard lineup. Austin Reeves and Lonnie Walker IV need to come back to stabilize the rotation. But once the Lakers are in full shape, he should be 6-foot-8-inch Hachimura nearly replacing the 6-foot guard in most lineups, and the Lakers should be a bigger, stronger team. .
A winged team and undoubted favorites, Boston will be an interesting test for Hachimura on both ends of the floor on Saturday. But his debut has left Lakers players feeling optimistic.
“He’s really, really helpful on both ends of the floor,” said Davis.
“Of course it will take him some time to get used to the team. But he seemed to adapt really well.”
(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)