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The Rui Hachimura Trade Doesn’t Move the Needle for the Lakers

Los Angeles exchanged Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks for size and scoring on the wing, but the team will need more help if it wants to contend in 2023

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After roughly six months of rumors and an underwhelming first half of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers finally completed a trade Monday—but neither Russell Westbrook nor their coveted future first-round picks are going anywhere.

Instead, they kicked off the two-week sprint to the trade deadline with a smaller move, sending Kendrick Nunn and three future second-round picks to the Washington Wizards for Rui Hachimura, who was the no. 9 pick in the 2019 draft and is a pending restricted free agent this summer.

Without sacrificing any of its most valuable trade assets, Los Angeles didn’t risk much with this swap. But a game out of the final play-in spot in a crowded Western Conference, the 22-25 Lakers still have a lot of work to do—likely involving those juicy 2027 and 2029 firsts—if they want to take any meaningful steps toward contention. The Hachimura addition alone scarcely nudges the needle because, as a 3-and-D prospect, Hachimura—who will celebrate his 25th birthday next month—leaves much to be desired on both the 3 and D fronts.

In his fourth NBA season, Hachimura is still a project; he’s flashed occasional potential but never put forth a sustained impressive effort on both offense and defense simultaneously. Instead, the former lottery pick became increasingly lost in the Wizards system, losing minutes and responsibilities as teammates jumped over him in both this season’s rotation and the team’s long-term plans.

Perhaps Hachimura’s greatest NBA skill is an ability to score with OK efficiency at an OK volume. He’s averaged between 11 and 14 points per game every season of his career. But scoring isn’t actually a problem for the 2022-23 Lakers anymore, with LeBron James accelerating toward the career points record, Anthony Davis about to return from injury, and five supporting cast members—Westbrook, Lonnie Walker IV, Thomas Bryant, Dennis Schröder, and Austin Reaves—all averaging double figures.

Although the Lakers started the season scoring like a peewee team, they improved as their underlying numbers suggested they would, and they’re now up to 15th in points per possession, less than a point away from the top 10. Since their atrocious 2-10 start, they rank sixth in offensive efficiency (116.4 points per possession), just behind the world-beating Celtics.

Hachimura can still help, especially if he fills in the gaps left by injuries to Walker and Reaves. At the very least, he offers more upside than Nunn, who never found his footing in Los Angeles after signing in free agency before the 2021-22 season; the former Heat guard missed all of last season with a knee injury, then struggled this season and lost playing time as he shot just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from a distance.

But if Davis and LeBron are both healthy—and they have to be for the Lakers to have any chance at contention—then it’s hard to fathom where Hachimura fits in an already high-scoring frontcourt starved for spacing. Hachimura demonstrated incredible potential from distance last season, when he made 45 percent of his 3s in a relatively small sample. But his 3-point accuracy has regressed to 34 percent this season—much closer to his career norm. If last season proves an outlier, Hachimura won’t help the Lakers space the floor around any of their high-usage scorers.

And if Hachimura’s shot doesn’t improve, or if it only tilts upward a bit as LeBron generates open looks for his new teammate, it’s hard to see how his overall offensive profile will reach its potential. With a career average of 1.4 assists per game, he’s not going to create for others; he’s not a high-efficiency scorer because he takes so many long 2-pointers; and he doesn’t often find his way to the free throw line for extra points (just 2.4 attempts per game over his career and 1.9 this season).

All of those below-average components mesh into a below-average whole, which is why Hachimura has been rated negatively by just about every advanced stat over the course of his career.

Defense is more difficult to measure, and more of a concern for these Lakers, but Hachimura fares poorly according to both traditional and advanced methods on that side of the ball as well. His career average of 1.1 steals plus blocks per 36 minutes ranks 414th out of 462 players with at least 1,000 minutes played since Hachimura was drafted, and the Wizards have typically allowed more points with him on the floor than off. While he offers more size than Nunn, Hachimura won’t be a meaningful upgrade for the 20th-ranked defense in the NBA.

The Wizards’ perspective on this deal is simple: They probably weren’t going to re-sign Hachimura this summer—ironically, because they would rather retain Kyle Kuzma, who’d be a great fit on his old Lakers team right about now—so instead of losing him for nothing, they preferred to drop him half a season early and land three second-round picks instead.

In Los Angeles, Hachimura might be more of a long-term fit. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers will try to sign him to an extension this summer. Given the complete dearth of talent locked in long term in Los Angeles—James, Davis, and rookie Max Christie are the only players with guaranteed deals beyond this year—he could help add future depth around the Lakers’ two stars. That’s especially true if Hachimura, who stepped away for a period last season due to personal reasons and has missed chunks of every other season because of injuries, uses the change of scenery to blossom away from Washington.

But at the moment, Hachimura profiles as a single-dimensional scorer on a team that doesn’t really need that dimension, as well as a below-average defender whose size can’t compensate for his lapses and poor rotations. Hachimura won’t help the Lakers become a more competitive playoff hopeful in 2023; if LeBron wants more help, he’ll need the front office to take a much bigger swing before February 9’s trade deadline.