If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Austin Reaves was looking to flatter a number of basketball legends heading into his sophomore season. After a standout rookie season, Reaves spent the offseason focusing on becoming what could only be described as a grifter based on the film he watched.
In a profile piece from Kyle Goon of the OC Register, Reaves detailed some of the work he did this summer which involved taking aspects of Rajon Rondo, James Harden and Manu Ginobili’s games.
He’s a borrower: Reaves admits he’s pulled the ball fakes in part from former teammate Rajon Rondo and tried to draw fouls like James Harden. His head fake from the corner shoots a throwback to former Atlanta Hawks star Steve Smith’s “Smitty” move. He was a fan of Manu Ginobili – some of the advanced footwork is reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs legend. After a long pause at a recent press conference, Ham compared Reaves to longtime Phoenix swingman Dan Marjele because, “he could do a little bit of everything.”
Reaves jokes that he has no choice but to get in his bag because he’s not as athletic as the competition: “I wish I could go dunk everything, but I can’t.” But teammates notice his dedication to the craft.
The improvements have been noticeable in a number of specific areas. Reaves has adopted the pump fake and drive on 3-pointers, as noted above, leading to some floaters. He’s also become a better ball-handler in a number of ways, which could be at least somewhat attributed to his former teammate Rondo.
The area he has seen the biggest jump though has been his free throw shooting. He’s adapted the art of grifting and is getting to the line at a higher rate, which can largely be attributed to the James Harden part of the quote above, though many of the names mentioned were known grifters in some sense.
That has led to his free throw attempts jumping notably this season. While his minutes have increased, Reaves free throw rate has improved at an even greater level. Last year, Reaves free throw rate — the number of free throws attempts per field goal attempts — was .371.
This season, that has jumped to .445, a figure that is second-best on the Lakers to only Anthony Davis at .469. And to put it into even more context, Reaves’ free throw rate is in line with the likes of DeMar DeRozan (.450) or Luka Doncic (.469).
Reaves also spoke to Goon about his mindset in drawing fouls and getting to the line more frequently this season versus taking more difficult shots.
Even the Arkansas native didn’t know some of his most flattering efficiency metrics until a recent interview, but it squares with how he tries to play the game: He’s always looking for an easier shot.
“I don’t feel like I have to get into the paint and force stuff,” he said. “I can get to the paint, use shot fakes, get to the free-throw line, make plays. Never want to be one-dimensional, so the shots I take in the paint are really good. They’re never really super tough shots.”
That mindset has helped lead him to have an improved and even more efficient season this year compared to last. His true shooting percentage has jumped from 60% to 69.1% and his effective field goal percentage has improved to 62.6% from 54.2%.
One of those areas that Reaves has found more success has been in the short little floaters. While there isn’t an exact measure of floaters specifically available, Cleaning the Glass does have a “short mid-range” classification described as shots further than four feet out but within 14 feet, equal to the distance of the free throw line. On those attempts, Reaves ranks in the 84th percentile among wings on attempts and 93rd percentile in makes, connecting on 29 of his 53 attempts.
Pair all of that up, and you get a version of Reaves that has been one of the five most productive Lakers this season and even higher at times during the year. He continues to be a bright spot for the team amidst back-to-back gloomy seasons.