There’s not much positivity to take from the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2021-22 season. The Russell Westbrook experiment was an utter failure, the new (and old) players surrounding him were even worse, and the team’s two superstars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — again had trouble staying healthy.
However, as they’ve done for a long while now, the Lakers’ scouting department found another diamond in the rough in the form of Austin Reaves. He quickly became a fan favorite while rising up through the ranks of the organization, as he went from a two-way player to a full part of the roster before training camp was even over.
This came after a moderately successful Las Vegas Summer League for Reaves, a league you would have almost certainly expected him to return to in 2022 before the actual season started. However, after being one of the team’s best players all season... is Reaves now too good for the league?
He shed some light on this when he was interviewed by Lakers Nation’s Trevor Lane and Matt Peralta, as the two asked him if he knew whether or not he’d be playing for the franchise’s Summer League team in a couple of months.
“I’m not 100% sure yet. That’s really about the most honest answer I can give you.”
He then talked about the experience that 2021’s Summer League provided, while continuing to not rule out an appearance in 2022 as a possibility.
“I feel like I’ve always got something to prove. So, if I go and play, I’m going to play it like I play every other game. But last year, Summer League was fun. It gave me a perspective of really just the physicality of the game, the speed of the game. Last year, that helped a lot moving into my rookie year. Like I said, if I go back and play this year – which is possible – I’m going to play it like every other game. Like it’s just a regular season game, just try to do the right things on the basketball court.”
Austin Reaves played 23.2 minutes per game for the Lakers this season while starting in 19 of the 61 games he played in. That type of activity for a rookie in the NBA usually means that he’s proven himself good enough to forego the typical second year of Summer League. However, it probably should be noted that the Lakers shouldn’t have needed Reaves that much this season.
That was as much a by-product of the front office’s poor roster construction as it was how well Reaves played. Although he showed a high level of defensive IQ and playmaking for his undrafted status, he still shot poorly, made typical rookie mistakes at times, and got taken advantage of on defense by bigger players when tasked with a 1-on-1 situation. Even with those issues, he was still one of the better players on the team and needed to be played as much as he was since this season was a championship-or-bust campaign after trading so much for Westbrook.
So although the decision to play or not play Reaves in the Summer League is probably pretty far down the franchise’s priority list at the moment, it’s still an interesting question. It probably wouldn’t hurt Reaves to get some run in with the Summer League team, but maybe it all depends on what the roster looks like following the free agency period and the draft.
If it seems like the Lakers will need to rely on Reaves as much as they did the previous season, maybe it’s best to give that type of rotation player some more rest in the summer.
But if the offseason drives Reaves farther down the depth chart than last season, then let the kid get out there and beat up on some rookies (I say with no bias at all as someone who will probably be attending the Las Vegas games this summer).