"Triple R" role players provide the Lakers all the hope they need

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers
Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

After beating Atlanta Monday night, the Lakers are now five games over .500, their best record in three years.

Their winning ways have been led, as usual, by their all-star duo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Each player, as good as he is, has still managed to surpass expectations.

AD has missed only four games all season and has been a dominant force on both ends of the court, averaging 25 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 3.6 assists. He is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

LeBron continues to defy Father Time, putting up historical numbers in his age 39 season: 25 points, a team-leading eight assists and seven rebounds a game while connecting at a career-best 40.6% clip from three-point range.

Yet this duo has been dynamic all season long. What has fueled the turnabout has been the play of the supporting cast, most particularly the uptick in production this calendar year of the "Triple R's": D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura.

The Lakers' success has boiled down to three key role players

 D'Angelo Russell

Some fans will never forgive D-Lo for his poor series against Denver in last season's Western Conference Finals. They called him "garbage", a choker and worse, and insisted he couldn't be counted on by a winning ball club. If they had their way, he would have been traded for a bag of popcorn.

Thankfully the Lakers front office didn't panic and stuck with Russell. Perhaps they understood that Russell is not a prototypical point guard. He's not blessed with a lightning-quick first step and can't jump very high. Yet he makes up for those deficiencies with a quick release on his excellent outside shot and with first-rate court vision that allows him to deliver the ball to open teammates.

After an uneven couple of months to start the season, Russell has emerged from the shadows of his two all-star teammates to propel the team to victory. For the season he's averaging 18.1 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 42.4% from behind the arc, all excellent numbers for a "third banana".

But since being re-inserted into the starting lineup on January 13th, D-Lo has been nothing short of spectacular. In the last 29 games, he's averaging 22.1 points and 6.8 assists while converting an outstanding 45.3% of his three-point tries. 

Russell has scored in double figures 27 of those 29 games in the starting lineup. He's made at least 2 three-pointers in 17 of the last 19. And he was magnificent in the Lakers' recent win over Milwaukee, scoring 44 points while shooting 9-12 from deep.

Additionally, he's playing the best defense of his career, using his long arms to deflect passes and disrupt the opposition.

At age 28, D-Lo should be entering his prime. If he and the team can agree on a contract extension this summer, Laker fans will be the beneficiaries.

Austin Reaves

Expectations were high for this third-year guard, particularly after his performance in last season's playoffs and for Team USA this summer. But he admittedly got off to a slow start. Like Russell, he was removed from the starting lineup for a spell. 

As a Manu Ginobili-type sixth man, AR began to rediscover the magic that attracted so many fans last year. Overall he's averaging a respectable 15.8 points and 5.5 assists this season while shooting a better-than-average 37.7% from beyond the arc. 

But in the 35 games since returning to the starting lineup on January 3rd, he's been even better. Since then Reaves is averaging 16.6 points and 6.0 assists while connecting on just under 40% of his long-distance attempts. He's scored in double figures in 17 straight games, 20 of his last 21 and 25 of his last 27.

Reaves had a highlight game against the Celtics last month, scoring 32 points while shooting 7-10 from deep and leading the team to an unexpected victory in Boston. He turns age 26 in May and has publicly stated he'd like to remain a Laker for life. Fans can only hope that his wish is granted. For now, he's under contract for the next two seasons.

Rui Hachimura

He's another player who had an outstanding postseason a year ago but got off to a slow start this season. He suffered a series of relatively minor injuries that undoubtedly contributed.

For the full season, Hachimura is averaging 12.8 points while shooting 41.2% beyond the arc and a career-high 53.1% overall. Those are mighty good numbers for a guy who is fifth on the team in shot attempts.

But like the other two "R's", Rui has raised his game since becoming a starter on February 3rd. In the 19 games since then he's averaging 15.3 points while shooting 43.5% from deep. He's scored in double figures in 13 of the last 16 games and has hit a three-pointer in 12 of the last 14. And he's made several clutch fourth-quarter shots.

The 6-8, 230-pound Hachimura sometimes guards the opposing center to allow Davis to protect the hoop like a defensive free safety. His effort cannot be criticized.

His biggest game came against Utah when we went off for 36 points, burying 6 of his 8 three-pointers. He's the same age, 26, as Reaves and is also signed through 2026.

Other Lakers are contributing off the bench, most especially Jaxson Hayes, who is shooting an insane 70% from the field. Taurean Prince remains a three-point threat (38.7%). Spencer Dinwiddie has struggled on offense but has been effective on defense, as has Cam Reddish. The possible return of Jarred Vanderbilt would also help on that side of the ball.

Fans can count on AD and LeBron to dazzle the rest of this season and in the playoffs. But if the "Triple R's" also continue to shine, and together average at least 50 points a game while playing good team defense, the Lakers are capable of beating any other Western Conference team. Yes, that even includes the two they've had the most trouble with, Denver and Sacramento.

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