Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Austin Reaves.
From opting to go undrafted, to a two-way contract, and now a guaranteed slot on this veteran-laden Lakers roster, Austin Reaves’s story and play has swiftly charmed the purple and gold fanbase — and more importantly, his teammates and the front office.
If that’s not the best first 71 days of work an undrafted rookie can ask for, then I don’t know what is.
But even before all of those memorable moments turned into reality, the Oklahoma State product was already scouted as a combo guard who can handle the ball, create his own shot and clamp his opponents prior to the NBA Draft. He was also ranked No. 1 among 29 other combo guards in ability to finish at the rim category (90th percentile) in this year’s NBA Draft combine workouts that took place from June 21-27.
- When dribbling off the screen in P&R situations, Ayayi was 30/50 from the field, ranking in the 99th percentile— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) July 30, 2021
- On offense derived from his P&Rs, he ranked in the 95th percentile
- On attempts around the basket, he shot 69.8%, ranking in the 89th percentile
In his collegiate years, Reaves notably excelled at driving downhill and converting catch-and-shoot attempts (he shot 40.7% on the latter such looks). On the other end, he was known for chasing shooters off of screens, guarding downhill plays and applying back pressure on defense. He also averaged 18.3 points, 4.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds a game in his last year before turning pro.
Thankfully for Reaves, his game has transitioned smoothly so far to the professional level.
Dubbed “Hillbilly Kobe” in college, the rookie backed up the details on his scouting report in this year’s NBA Summer League and California Classic exhibition games, after he showed glimpses of his solid ability to handle the ball, create open opportunities for his teammates, score at his own pace and hustle on defense. More importantly, Reaves’ IQ, confidence, and leadership also stood out in his first run as a professional athlete.
And when I say confidence, I mean taking shots like this with no hesitation or whatsoever. The type of shot that will send the Lakers bench grooving, and leave fans hyped for their only rookie.
This boy Austin Reaves is CONFIDENT pic.twitter.com/zdF2gyXYHx— Nicole Ganglani (@nicoleganglani) August 14, 2021
Reaves’ IQ, attention to detail and confidence at his age are exactly what will help him prosper now that he’s teammates with six future hall of famers. Lucky for him, he’s already caught the attention of James, who once complimented the rookie for making an accurate defensive rotation in Las Vegas last August.
From yesterday vs Nets: This is just good defense from an IQ and ability standpoint. The positioning, the anticipation and understanding, the quickness and footwork to stay in front of his man leads to this steal from Austin Reaves, aka the Hillbilly Kobe #HBK pic.twitter.com/Cjrig8GZBh— yo-uhh (@IouaLagazo) October 4, 2021
And in the preseason so far, Reaves seems to be making the most out of the opportunities Frank Vogel has given him. He’s averaged 6.5 points, 2.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1 steal a game in 20.8 minutes.
Although this may just be a small sample size in two meaningless preseason games, the rookie continues to show why he belongs on the professional stage. His 3-point range, effort on both ends of the floor and ability to execute Vogel’s latest creative offensive sets have stood out from his performance so far.
Austin Reaves does exactly what the Lakers want every one of their guards doing when they peel off the driving ball handler to put a body on the roller as the big contests the shot.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 7, 2021
It doesn't work out, but this is fantastic recognition and effort from Reaves. pic.twitter.com/6BDMABIgkL
This season, the 23-year-old will get even more opportunities to catch the attention of the superstars he grew up watching, specifically Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard — the same players who Reaves will be around and get the chance to learn from on a daily basis.
How many rookies can say they’ve been teammates with some of the best players to ever grace the hardwood? It’s a hell of an opportunity, and one that is not lost on Reaves.
“It’s crazy. I mean, you see all these guys come together and the IQ on this team is going to be crazy. There’s no ego here as well. If anybody talks, people are going to listen. So, putting all those IQs together is going to be special. It was crazy seeing it and knowing I was going to be part of it in some way is special,” Reaves said in his first interview of the season on Media Day.
However, with this type of once-in-a-life opportunity comes great sacrifice. The rookie will, in all likelihood, barely have a role on this championship contending team. He will probably get similar chances as Talen Horton Tucker did two seasons ago — which is to say, almost none, as Horton-Tucker played for just five minutes prior to the NBA bubble — especially considering the crowded backcourt depth this current Lakers roster employs. Reaves will likely be spending more time with Lakers assistant and player development guru Phil Handy and the rest of the team’s outstanding coaching staff than anyone else on the team.
Class is in session pic.twitter.com/MzPx1Moska— South Bay Lakers (@SouthBayLakers) October 6, 2021
Instead of regular season opportunities, Reaves will probably have to make a name for himself first with the South Bay Lakers in the G League, or perhaps during practices where he has to really catch the attention of Vogel and the rest of the coaching staff. Based on the competitive mentality and effort Reaves displayed last summer, this challenge shouldn’t be incredibly hard for him to achieve, even if it doesn’t result in many minutes.
For now, the rookie’s job is to continue to prove that he’s worth a guaranteed deal, be prepared anytime his number is called and perhaps run more “fun-loving errands” for Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. At the very least, Reaves mentioned that he’s already prepared to do all that and more this season.
“I just have to come to work every single day and be prepared,” Reaves said.
He’s clearly done so thus far, impressing the Lakers in every chance he’s gotten since signing a two-way deal with the team. But while he can continue to keep the team satisfied, “Hillbilly Kobe” will just have to do so outside the spotlight, at least for now.