basketball

Rui Hachimura trade grades: Lakers earn high mark by addressing need; Wizards make another disappointing move

The Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards completed a trade that sends fourth-year forward Rui Hachimura to Los Angeles in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks (in 2023, 2028 and 2029), the teams announced Monday. Hachimura is averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds this season and matched a season-high with 30 points against the Magic on Saturday.

The Lakers have been in deep trade talks across the league for virtually the entire season. They spent the offseason trying to find a new home for embattled point guard Russell Westbrook, and when that failed, they entered the season with a roster heavy on guards and light on wings.

Their unbalanced roster only grew more problematic as the season went on. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have both missed a meaningful amount of time, and both were essential in defending opposing forwards. Lately, standout role players Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV, who also have defended wings, have been out due to injury. This has forced the Lakers to use lineups featuring three, four, and against Dallas on Christmas, even five guards just to make sure their best players are on the floor.

They’ve been seeking wing help on the trade market, but it typically doesn’t come cheap, and they have been hesitant to include their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in trades to find upgrades. From that perspective, Hachimura represents the perfect compromise.

Hachimura, now in the final season of his rookie deal after being picked No. 9 overall in 2019, he missed much of the last season for personal reasons and dealt with a bone bruise that forced him to miss games this season. Meanwhile, he has struggled to find his place on a Wizards team loaded with rotation-caliber players but lacking the sort of veterans that could help him develop into what Washington hoped for when he was drafted. Things came to a head over the weekend, when Hachimura said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be traded. “I just want to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player, and I want to be somewhere that likes my game,” he told reporters.

Now he’ll get his wish. Hachimura joins a Lakers team that desperately needs someone at his position and is seemingly ready to invest in his development for at least the rest of the season. As such, they earn a solid grade for the move.

Los Angeles Lakers: A-

The Lakers are, based on listed heights, the shortest team in the NBA this season. A dozen players have played 400 minutes for them this season and eight of them are guards. Austin Reaves, a 6-foot-5 collegiate point guard, has spent most of his minutes this season at small forward. Troy Brown Jr., a 6-foot-6 wing who started his career as a guard, has played nearly half of his minutes at power forward. This was, and remains, a preposterously small team even when Anthony Davis is healthy. They badly needed a forward-sized human being, but forward-sized human beings are among the NBA’s rarer commodities. Last season, they found Stanley Johnson on the scrap heap and got meaningful production. Being 6-foot-8 and playing with energy is extremely valuable.

Hachimura is this season’s low-risk, high-reward addition, and the upside is significantly higher. Johnson was a notoriously poor shooter. Hachimura is more of a mixed bag. He’s attempted only 2.5 3-pointers per game for his career, and his percentages have been inconsistent for his career. He made 33.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3’s in 2021 and is there again this season, but last year, he made 47 percent of them. The truth lies somewhere in between, but Hachimura has never had a playmaker like LeBron James to create his looks and he’s never had a big man like Anthony Davis to draw defenses towards the rim for him. He’s made 42 percent of his wide-open 3’s this season, but has only gotten 50 of those attempts. He’ll get plenty as a Laker.

His defense has been inconsistent, but the metrics are trending in the right direction. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR and Dunks & Threes’ EPM both rate him as slight positives. It’s not hard to see why. An athletic 6-foot-8 frame with a 7-foot-2 wingspan is always going to cause problems, and the Wizards have often used him on the best opposing scorer in recent years. He’s no stopper, but merely having a player with the right physical proportions to guard those players is important because it ensures that LeBron James doesn’t need to. The Lakers have thus far solved that problem with the extremely undersized Patrick Beverley. It hasn’t gone well.

Hachimura’s development has been uneven in Washington. The Lakers have a strong track record with such players. They rehabilitated Malik Monk’s value a season ago. They’ve done the same with Lonnie Walker IV this season. The Lakers do well with young athletes who can shoot. That broadly describes Hachimura. The Lakers have spent months trying to find a way to land such a player without including their 2027 or 2029 first-round picks. They’ve now done so.

That’s also the only thing keeping them from getting an A. This is a good trade. The Lakers need a great trade to get into the championship picture. Hachimura will slot in as a rotation player. They’re at least one solid starter away from true contention, and that player likely has to come at Hachimura’s position. His former Washington teammate Kyle Kuzma has been discussed as a possibility. So has Bojan Bogdanovic. The Lakers just improved forward. They’re still thin there. If this is the first of multiple trades the Lakers make? Great, they have a chance to make some noise.

If they view this trade as their only move? Well, things get messier. Not only does that likely eliminate them from championship contention this season, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that the Lakers plan to re-sign Hachimura after the season. That’s fine in theory. In practice, the Lakers are a team designed to maximize cap space this offseason, when they can create roughly $34 million to pursue players from other teams. Hachimura’s $18.8 million cap hold is only going to make that harder. That’s an easier pill to swallow if it helps the Lakers to a deep playoff run, but without another deal, that likely isn’t happening. All of this creates just enough questions to lower the grade to an “A-,” but all things considered, getting this sort of talent without surrendering a first-round pick is almost entirely a victory for the Lakers.

Washington Wizards: D-

The Wizards didn’t make things worse with this trade. That’s about as much credit as they deserve here. They didn’t take on a long-term salary. They didn’t give away picks. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a harmful trade. It’s just a disappointing one.

Hachimura isn’t, say, Johnny Davis. He’s not some lottery bust who proved almost immediately that he wasn’t going to be able to play at the NBA level. Hachimura was actually fairly good across parts of four seasons as a Wizard. Averaging 13 points per game on reasonable overall efficiency and league-average 3-point shooting is nothing to scoff at. Most metrics grade him as an average defender this season at a premium position. He has, at various points in his career, taken on the toughest opposing assignments. He has great physical tools and has more or less met the expectations of a late lottery pick.

That may not be a player to build around, but it’s a player to invest in. That’s something the Wizards just haven’t done for quite some time. The last Wizards draft pick to earn an extension? That would be Otto Porter Jr., who was taken almost a decade ago at the 2013 NBA Draft. Let’s take a look at their first-round picks since then:

Yet again, the Wizards have proven either unwilling or unable to properly develop young players. That’s going to become increasingly problematic for them as their two injury-prone stars, Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, age out of the phases of their careers in which they can keep this team afloat without support. If the Wizards can’t create an internal support system for them soon, any facade of competitiveness this team hoped to maintain will fade quickly, and when it does, developing the young players they draft at the top of the lottery is going to be their only way of escaping the bottom of the standings.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like the Wizards are equipped to do that. Whether or not Hachimura lived up to Washington’s hopes is almost irrelevant. He’s a young player with talent. The Wizards don’t have many of those. A handful of second-round picks is not an adequate replacement for one, and yet, given their history, it’s just about all they can ever really expect to turn their talented young players into.

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