Rui Hachimura Providing Lakers Historic Spark Off the Bench

Roughly halfway through the opening round of the 2023 playoffs, nobody has provided a bigger punch off the bench than Rui Hachimura. 

The first-year Laker currently leads the postseason in bench scoring with 21.7 points per game, on an ultra-efficient clip of 66.7% from the field and 75.0% from 3-point range. 

Hachimura’s consistency has him reaching a new accolade every night.

Game 1: Tied Mychal Thompson’s franchise playoff bench scoring record. Game 2: First Laker since Magic Johnson (1996) with back-to-back 20-point playoff games off the bench. Game 3: First Laker in 15 years (Luke Walton) with three straight bench playoff games of 15+ points. 

This blistering start to the playoffs is at least somewhat surprising for Hachimura, who averaged 11.2 points and 31.9% shooting from 3-point distance in the regular season. But the fourth-year pro has been true from distance to start this series, shooting 9-of-12 from deep. 

Most impressively, Hachimura has shown zero hesitancy with letting it fly on the biggest stage of his young career. All nine of his treys have been no-dribble, catch-and-shoot attempts. He has consistently punished the Grizzlies for cheating off of him to provide help on other players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis. 

“I’ve been practicing this shot the whole year,” Hachimura said after helping the Lakers go up 2-1 on Saturday. “I was waiting for this moment. I am just more confident shooting those 3s and everybody keeps encouraging me to shoot those 3s and be ready.”

For as effective as Hachimura’s outside shooting has been, his inside game has been, well, perfect. He has made all 10 of his shot attempts inside the restricted area (6-of-6 on layups, 4-of-4 on dunks). 

And while his 3s have all been uniform, pure spot-up attempts, his attacks at the rim have come in a variety of flavors. 

He’s scrapped for some put-backs on the offensive glass. He’s broken out his handles for some hand-switching drives to the hoop. And he dropped the meanest bucket of the series in Game 1, printing out a poster co-starring Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. 

A solid finisher in the regular season, Rui’s biggest question mark moving forward is whether his 3-point shot can continue to thrive. For his career, he averages at 34.7% from deep. But he’s been known to go on extended hot streaks, like last season, when his percentage (44.7%) ranked second among players with at least 120 attempts. 

Plus, Hachimura has yet to unlock his signature mid-range game. After hitting the league’s fifth-best mark in the regular season (50.0%), he’s started this series just 2-of-8 from this area. 

But that hasn’t stopped the rest of his game from blossoming. 

“I told him just think free,” head coach Darvin Ham said at Sunday’s practice. “Don’t bog yourself down with what you’re supposed to do and what you’re doing wrong. Just go out ready to compete. Be assertive, be aggressive, have fun, attack all facets of the game on both sides of the ball.”

That aggressive mindset has him making history, individually and along with the team. The Lakers ended Sunday’s opening frame with a 26-point advantage — tying the NBA playoffs record for biggest first-quarter lead.

And who was it that raced ahead of the pack for the history-making dunk at the end of the period? You already know.