Everything about Austin Reaves’ journey to the NBA and his current role with the Lakers has been extraordinary. However, that the undrafted rookie is making not just an impact on the Lakers, but a winning impact on a team that hopes to be a contender may be most improbable of it all.
Because although a number of other things factor into it, the Lakers actually have a remarkably good record this season when Reaves plays. After Sunday’s victory over Minnesota, the team is now 14-5 on the season on nights Reaves takes to the court. Even more hilariously, in the 13 games that LeBron James and Reaves have played together, the Lakers are 11-2.
After practice on Monday, Reaves talked about the team’s record when he plays, and downplayed his role in that.
“It means a lot,” Reaves said. “Someone had mentioned it to me last night when I was leaving the gym but I don’t have Twitter so I don’t really see a lot of the things that everybody else sees. It means a lot but, like I said earlier, I just want to win basketball games and help the team be successful. That’s the main goal and that’s what we’re trying to do moving forward.”
The greatest knock on Reaves this season has been his lack of availability, hardly something under his control. A hamstring injury was followed by a nearly two-week stint in health and safety protocols with COVID. The result was a span from Nov. 10 until Dec. 29 where Reaves played just seven of the team’s 25 games.
“It’s tough,” Reaves said of being in and out of the lineup. “With COVID, I was out for like 11 days and wasn’t able to do much, so that was a little tougher than the hamstring issue. At least the hamstring issue, I was able to be in the gym, shooting, stuff like that. You just have to stay mentally prepared and locked into whatever the team’s trying to do.”
When he’s been available, he’s been remarkably good for the Lakers. Even in the best-case scenario, it’s unlikely the Lakers expected an undrafted rookie like Reaves to play at the level he has. Reaves’ overall net rating of +10.5 is far and away the best mark of rotation players on the Lakers this season. And of players across the entire NBA with at least 20 games played and an average of 20 minutes per game or more, Reaves ranks 14th in individual net rating.
Those numbers translate alongside nearly every teammate this season. Reaves only has a negative net rating alongside two teammates (Kent Bazemore and Avery Bradley). With each of the remaining members of the roster that have come and gone this year, Reaves has a positive net rating.
The aforementioned Reaves and James pairing has a net rating of +13.4. Alongside Westbrook, the net rating is +6.7. In 24 minutes of Reaves playing with the Lakers Big Three of James, Westbrook and Anthony Davis, the team has a +45.1 net rating. Segment that into any combination of Reaves and the Big Three, and the result is the same with Reaves and the team excelling in those minutes.
“I think it’s just (being) willing to do whatever on the court,” Reaves said. “If it’s play defense, dive on the floor for loose balls, take charges, just all those little things that can either win or lose you a game are the things I’m kind of here to do. Those things, and making winning basketball plays.”
Reaves willingness to do the dirty work alone helps fill a need in many of the Lakers lineups this season. Paired with his high IQ and jack of all trades type of skillset, and it’s no wonder he’s quickly become the latest cult figure among Lakers fans all over social media.
Just don’t expect him to see many of those posts.