Little is going right for the Lakers currently after a second-straight loss out of the All-Star break on Sunday. However, one of the very few bright spots on the year as a whole has been the joint play of Malik Monk and Austin Reaves.
The Lakers are long past their days of having Baby Lakers to cheer for, having either traded all of them away or letting them walk in free agency. Talen Horton-Tucker represented the entirety of their young core heading into the offseason and Reaves and Monk have joined with all three players 24 years old or younger.
While Horton-Tucker’s 2021-22 campaign has largely been discouraging, he’s still a 21-year-old with loads of potential that has shown more than a few flashes this season. Together, the trio have given the team some form of an energetic young core to as role players for the future.
“I liked how all three of those guys played,” Vogel said. “Those three guys have really been consistent forces for us this year. I like what Austin looked like in the starting lineup. He’s got great length and great feet and great hustle and great toughness to play that type of role. I was pleased with his performance and Talen and Malik.”
For a variety of reasons — not all of them logical — that trio has played together just 161 minutes across 27 games. Not shockingly, in those minutes, the Lakers have a net rating of 11.4 with an offensive rating of 112.3 and a defensive rating of 100.9. Ninety of those minutes have come alongside LeBron James and — again not shockingly — the Lakers still have a net rating of 11.4 in those minutes with a slightly higher offensive (115.5) and defensive (104.2) rating.
A benefactor of the Lakers playing smaller this season is that this trio has seen the court more. Even outside of playing with one another exclusively, the three players rank third (Monk), fourth (Horton-Tucker) and fifth (Reaves) in minutes played since Reaves returned from injury on New Year’s Eve.
All but 10 of their minutes together have come during that span and 88 of their 90 minutes alongside James have come during that stretch as well. With the urgency to win games increasing, the Lakers have turned to three youngsters to help deliver them victories. It’s a testament to how well they’ve performed this year, even if also an indictment on the roster.
They may struggle to keep the trio together past this season with Monk’s free agency set to be a tricky one, even if he’s expressed a desire to remain in Los Angeles. Regardless if it’s a core for the short- or long-term, it’s one the Lakers need right now and one that has continued to help them win games this season.