During their pre-media day press conference, Los Angeles Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and head coach Darvin Ham each praised the development Rui Hachimura showed after being acquired from the Washington Wizards.
They also noted that he was intentional about training with LeBron James this offseason with Ham adding that James refers to Hachimura as his “understudy”.
Hachimura’s reaction to those comments included tagging James on X, and it drew a response.
“Bron calls him his understudy,” Ham said via the team on September 28. “From the visuals and the communication, 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.”
Hachimura averaged 9.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 33 appearances with the Lakers, including nine starts. He averaged 11.2 points and 5.9 boards as a starter but the Lakers were just 3-6 as they were short-handed in those games.
The 6-foot-8 forward could make the leap to full-time starter next season.
Rui Hachimura Could Start Next Season
“The early expectation is that [Christian] Wood will come off the bench with Rui Hachimura the likely frontcourt starter next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis,” wrote Jovan Buha of The Athletic on September 6 citing team sources.
But Ham pumped the brakes on that, leaving it up to the competition in training camp to decide the final starting spot.
“In terms of how [Hachimura]’ll be used … we have a team full of Swiss Army knives,” Ham said. “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. … I expect nothing but big big big things from Rui this year.”
The Lakers re-signed Hachimura, 25, to a three-year, $51 million contract this offseason.
“He’s still a young player. He still have different levels he can go to, and he’s already at a extremely high level. so we’ll figure it out. But he’ll definitely be deep in the mix.”
Darvin Ham: Rui Hachimura has ‘All-Star’ Potential
Ham has talked up the Lakers’ depth including Hachimura for whom he has offered lofty praise while simultaneously raising expectations for a player who was the No. 9 overall pick of the draft in 2019.
“I don’t even think he’s scratched the surface,” Ham said via Spectrum SportsNet on April 23. “I tell people all the time, this kid has All-Star skill. He’s a All-Star type of talent.”
If Hachimura can have an Austin Reaves-like ascension, the Lakers’ highly-regarded offseason might receive even higher marks if possible. Even if he simply maintains his level of production, he should be a key piece for a team that is looking to get over the hump and to the NBA Finals this season.
“Rui to me, I’m not gonna say he was the Most Improved Player. But he improved where he was a threat and a impact player,” said Hall-of-Fame Laker James Worthy on Spectrum SportsNet on August 11. “He’s very consistent, and I think the prototype NBA player.”