If you ask any rookie if they ever imagined themselves playing right in front of LeBron James, most would probably tell you they haven’t. Because for as dedicated as LeBron is to the game of basketball, he’s probably not the type of superstar you’ll spot at a random exhibition game unless, of course, if it features his son, Bronny James.
But on a random summer day in mid-August in Las Vegas, the Lakers’ newest two-way contract player, Austin Reaves, had the moment of a lifetime to play right in front of James and the NBA’s all time triple double leader (and now Laker) Russell Westbrook.
The 23-year-old standout from Newark, Arkansas, recently told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com about the memorable moment:
MT: OK last thing. You’re playing in the game against Detroit on Saturday, and LeBron and Russ walk in. You’re a pro too, but is there something there where you’re thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m about to spend the whole season working out in the same gym at the UCLA Health Training Center’ … or whatever.
Reaves: It’s crazy … in the game, when they walked in, I had no idea they were coming, nothing. So I remember the time now when everyone was going crazy, but I didn’t know what it was at the time because I was playing. But during the game, we were on defense, and someone (on Detroit) shot it from the corner. Another (Piston) was on the block, and he wasn’t checked out, so I went down and cracked him. I heard someone behind me say, ‘Good!’ or something like that. I’m like … I don’t really hear people. But that voice sounds real familiar. Who? So I keep playing or whatever. Then I go to the bench, and I look over, and it’s LeBron and Russ. I’m like, ‘Oh! That’s crazy!’.
It’s just things like that, I mean, the IQ that he has is off the charts. There’s not much else you can say. It’s LeBron, arguably the best player ever. It’s going to be fun just to be around him and four or five other potential Hall of Famers on the team. It’s a great opportunity to go in and just learn. All of them are high IQ guys, done a lot of things and been real successful, so it’s going to be super fun.
It’s only appropriate that Reaves’ first moment with his new captain is one where he was complimented for making the right read and rotation. He did mention that basketball instincts were something his parents, brother and coach (Gregg Marshall) at Wichita State made sure to instill in him during his formative years.
Meanwhile, as for James, the four-time MVP has always been fond of teammates who have a high understanding of the game (remember our guy Alex Caruso?) so it’s no surprise that The King was vocal about his approval for a simple yet important defensive rotation.
MT: That’s great. Now just to clarify … you think LeBron basically pointed out a defensive IQ play you made?
Reaves: I do. I think someone rotated, and dude was on the block and nobody was by him, so I went and cracked down. The ball came off hard and someone else got it. And then I heard ‘Good,’ and thought the voice sounded real familiar.
MT: And it wasn’t on some highlight dunk, but a random and quick defensive decision.
Reaves: Just a little play. That’s how you know someone has high IQ.
Included in this interview with Reaves is his description of hearing @KingJames praise him for a crackdown on defense vs. DET in Vegas. Reaves didn’t know LeBron/Russ had entered the building, but recognized the voice when LeBron called out “Good!” https://t.co/cmWJ9uVbL3 pic.twitter.com/z7gm3VJYBw— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) August 19, 2021
It’s also only right that Reaves was complimented by James, because the rookie’s professional debut was nothing short of impressive. Reaves averaged 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2 assists per game, and even had one game-winner in Las Vegas. He was also often the team’s main ball handler and was a playmaker at times. The young player, who reportedly turned down the chance to get drafted just to sign with the Lakers, certainly proved why he was deserving of a two-way contract this summer.
Two particular skills that stood out from Reaves’ game during the summer were his defensive ability and instincts on both ends of the floor, exactly why James complimented him from his courtside seats in a moment Reaves will probably remember forever. And now that the rookie is set to see James more often this upcoming season, let’s hope James’ compliment of Reaves is the first of many to come.