Former Gonzaga University men's basketball forward Rui Hachimura is back on the West Coast, suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers after the Washington Wizards traded the fifth-year forward ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
Following the Wizards and Hachimura’s failure to reach an agreement on a contract extension, Hachimura was set to become a restricted free agent if he chose not to accept their qualifying offer following the season.
The team that did end up striking early and making Hachimura an offer was the Lakers after Washington traded the Japan native for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.
Lakers General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka explained in a news conference how enthusiastic the coaching and management staff was to add Hachimura to the roster.
“It’s easy to get a veteran at the end of their career with the pick but when you can get a player that hopefully has a 10-plus year runway of great basketball in front of them like Rui does, that’s a really unique opportunity to get,” Pelinka said.
The opportunity has not been disappointing. On Jan. 25 against the San Antonio Spurs, Hachimura made a step-back jumper in the fourth quarter of the game, extending the Lakers' lead to 12 points. LA went on to win the game, 113-104.
When the Lakers played the Knicks on Jan. 31, the Lakers were down by one point with 11 minutes left in the third quarter. Hachimura lined up a 3-pointer and made it, giving the Lakers the lead.
The game was tense and ended in overtime. Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson attempted a crucial shot in the last two minutes and Hachimura swatted the ball, blocking his attempt and keeping the Lakers in the lead until the overtime period ended.
In a game against the Golden State Warriors, Hachimura played a total of 31 minutes. In that time he grabbed seven defensive rebounds and was able to hit all of his free throws, helping the Lakers to a much-needed victory.
When the Lakers played the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 7, Hachimura shot 71.4% from the field, grabbed five defensive rebounds and made every 3-point shot he attempted in 26 minutes of playing time.
Hachimura’s ability to get up and down the court as soon as a defensive rebound is retrieved has helped contribute to his success during his brief stint in LA.
In both games against the Knicks and the Spurs, LeBron James made several long passes to Hachimura who was far enough down the court to score for the Lakers.
This is one of the things that the coaching staff appears to love about Hachimura’s style — He knows how to play a clean game.
“Most importantly, Rui is just a high-character individual who cares about playing basketball the right way and those [types of] guys really thrive in our system,” Pelinka said.
In his introductory news conference, Hachimura explained the reasons why he felt like the Lakers were a good fit for him when he was making his decision. Among them was the fact that he was getting the chance to play on a team that several of his old teammates from the Wizards had played on, including Russell Westbrook, Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr.
“I’m so excited to be back with those guys," Hachimura said. "We already have chemistry, so I think it’s going to be great to be back with these guys and be playing."
Though his time in LA has been brief, Hachimura has carved out a role alongside James and Anthony Davis in the Lakers' hunt for the playoffs.