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Malik Monk and Austin Reaves are making a case for roles in the Lakers’ rotation

With injuries limiting the amount of young players available, Malik Monk and Austin Reaves are taking advantage of their opportunity.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

While Carmelo Anthony rightfully took the biggest headlines in Sunday’s win over the Grizzlies with his historic, vintage performance, a pair of fellow role players continued to establish themselves as well. Both Austin Reaves and Malik Monk each stood out for the Lakers earlier in the game, playing a role in the Lakers’ strong first-half surge most notably.

By night’s end, Reaves joined Anthony with a team-high plus-minus of +19, while Monk was a tick behind at +18.

The pair have begun to establish themselves in different ways on different paths this season. Sunday was the first real rotation minutes of the season for Reaves, an undrafted rookie that has ridden a wave of momentum from two-way contract, to guaranteed deal, to preseason star, to rotation player for a contender, playing 18 minutes in the team’s first win of the season.

“They were terrific,” Vogel said of the pair after the game. “I didn’t expect to put Austin on Ja Morant, but it ended up that way because he’s just playing well on both sides of the ball. He did a good job competing. Every time his number is called, he gets in there and plays well.”

Reaves did in fact spend some time on Morant on the evening, though only a very limited amount. But his ability to be a glue guy that can do a bit of everything has helped him earn his spot in the rotation, whether it’s knock down 3-pointers, make the right pass, play off the superstars or, on Sunday, take a stab at defending a red-hot opponent.

Reaves’ impact can best be told in advanced numbers, even with a tiny sample size. In 26 minutes alongside James, for example, Reaves has a net rating of +44.7. With Westbrook, it’s +60 in 24 minutes and with Davis, it’s +55.7 in 16 minutes.

As noted, those numbers are greatly inflated by the fourth quarter comeback in Friday’s loss to the Suns and a strong first half on Sunday. But while they certainly won’t stay at the mark they are now, the eye test matches the numbers, as Reaves has solidified his spot through the opening three games. Even after the Lakers get healthier, Reaves deserves minutes in the Lakers rotation.

Monk, meanwhile, came into Los Angeles this summer with expectations and hopes of being a contributor. Coming off a career year in Charlotte, Monk bet on himself this offseason and signed a minimum deal with the Lakers.

So far, it’s a gamble that looks to be paying off. While an injury briefly sidelined him during camp, Monk has been one of the standout Lakers so far this year, starting at the very beginning of preseason, finishing with 12 points and four assists on Sunday, with a pair of 3-pointers in two attempts.

For Vogel, though, it’s been what Monk has been able to do on the other end of the court that’s helped him gain minutes.

“I love Monk’s instincts for the game,” Vogel said. “I really do. His scoring instincts, but just using his athleticism defensively, getting up to speed with how we want to execute our defensive schemes, he’s really coming along with that. Both those guys are a huge part of the win.”

While Monk’s scoring was never in question coming into this season, the same couldn’t be said about his defense. Seen as the weak spot of his game and the area that could potentially keep him off the floor, particularly under a defensive-minded head coach like Vogel, Monk has impressed enough on that end of the floor to play a season-high 21 minutes on Sunday, albeit in just three games.

Together, he and Reaves are taking advantage of an opportunity presented. With injuries to Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Wayne Ellington, the door has been wide open for Monk and Reaves to make an impression, and that they’ve done.

On Sunday, Rajon Rondo remained seated on the bench throughout the night as Monk and Reaves took those minutes and ran, figuratively and literally. The duo that started out playing high school basketball against each other in Arkansas are now complementing the Lakers Big Three in different ways, Reaves as that aforementioned glue guy and Monk with his spacing, which has allowed them both to see the floor more and more through the first week.

With Nunn and Horton-Tucker unlikely to return in the foreseeable future and Ellington’s status up in the air as he remains day-to-day moving forward, Monk and Reaves will be relied upon more and more as the season ticks away. So far this year, Sunday included, the pair have proven to be valuable commodities to the Lakers and could make life difficult for Vogel and the coaching staff once the Lakers’ backcourt does return to full health.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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