Why Rui Hachimura would be better off as the Lakers’ sixth man

Rui Hachimura was one of the central figures in the Los Angeles Lakers’ turnaround this past season. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward was acquired in late January from the struggling Washington Wizards for little-used guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks.

Although Hachimura was inconsistent and even passive at times in the regular season, his impact was apparent. He gave Los Angeles another legitimate scoring threat, especially in iso situations, and at times, he played effective positional defense. In particular, he hounded eventual NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic very well during the Western Conference Finals.

Some are projecting Hachimura to move into the Lakers’ starting lineup for this coming season. However, there are several reasons why they would be better off if he were their sixth man instead.

Scoring punch off the bench

Every championship contender needs someone who can come off the bench and provide them with instant offense. That’s exactly what Hachimura has done and can continue to do for L.A.

During the playoffs, he came off the bench in all but one of the team’s 16 contests. But quite often, he would immediately go to work and score points in bunches to keep the Purple and Gold afloat.

He reached the 20-point mark four times in the 2023 NBA Playoffs, and he was particularly potent during the Lakers’ series versus the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets.

Past Lakers championship teams had players such as Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo and Lamar Odom who gave them a legitimate scoring threat off the bench. Hachimura can do for this season’s iteration what those men did back in the day.

Hachimura can play free and easy

The Lakers’ starting lineup is pretty loaded offensively. In addition to the seemingly ageless LeBron James and the outstanding unicorn known as Anthony Davis, they have D’Angelo Russell, who can score on and off the ball, and the fast-emerging Austin Reaves.

If Hachimura joins them in the starting lineup, he would have to greatly defer, and it could relegate him to being a spectator on offense. That was a significant problem he had during this past regular season before he turned it on during the postseason.

But if the Japan native remains with L.A.’s second unit, he can be in attack mode and play freely, especially since that second unit would need him to do so.

Giving James a respite

James is 38 years of age and has an insane amount of mileage and wear and tear. The Lakers greatly need to reduce his minutes to around 32 a game during the regular season, and part of the formula to do so is to make sure they have enough offense when he’s resting.

Hachimura can play either forward spot, which offers head coach Darvin Ham plenty of options for those James-less stretches. In addition, when Hachimura is on a hot streak, he could perhaps buy James a little more rest than usual, which could result in some games where the NBA’s all-time leading scorer will play just under 30 minutes.

It could all add up to James being fresh and healthy for the playoffs and perhaps another year or two being added to his prime.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire