Austin Reaves exceeded the most optimistic Lakers fans’ wildest dreams last year by making the team as an undrafted rookie, cracking the rotation in the second game of the season, and then leading the Lakers in net rating among players who suited up for at least 20 contests.
Merely maintaining the level of his first season in year 2 would be a successful outcome for a player with Reaves’ draft status. But Reaves didn’t get to the league from a no-name town in Arkansas by setting expectations low, and that will continue into his sophomore season. In an interview with Shams Charania for Stadium, Reaves shared that one of his goals is to be a starter for the 2022-23 Lakers.
“It's always, I mean, a goal to be in the starting five, but whatever role that they want to give me, I’ll be happy to take and try to do that to the best of my abilities. But you know starting is always, especially as a Laker with the guys that we have, is cool. But I mean at the end of the day, I just want to win, and accept whatever role that they want me to have.”
Lakers' Austin Reaves sits down with @Stadium: "I definitely don't pass the eye test and I'm not the most athletic in the world, but I've figured it out so far." On goal of starting role in 2022-23, LeBron and Kobe, believing he's the best golfer in the NBA, and more. pic.twitter.com/KplZQt7WYS— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 13, 2022
Reaves started 19 of his 61 games last season, all of those coming after the All-Star Break, but there’s a new coaching staff and a better guard room for the Lakers this time around. Rather than competing for minutes against the likes of Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, and D.J. Augustin, Reaves will have to beat out Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn (hopefully), and Lonnie Walker IV for a starting job on the 2022-23 Lakers — with the understanding that Russell Westbrook will remain the starting point guard, as he was a year ago.
Even if Reaves improves upon his performance as a rookie, specifically becoming more accurate from 3-point range, that may not be enough to stand out among the new crop of guards in purple and gold, though head coach Darvin Ham did express some excitement at how Reaves has looked during offseason workouts.
Reaves might also find himself in a tougher fight for minutes off the bench. Last year, he spent about half of his minutes at shooting guard and half at small forward; the team’s frontcourt injuries meant several players had to play up a position, which notably included LeBron James playing center for extensive minutes. Ideally, if the Lakers are healthier this year, their frontcourt minutes will be occupied by actual bigs, leaving the small forward minutes to LeBron and other wing-sized players, and potentially not as many left for Reaves, who physically profiles more as a two-guard.
But Reaves justifiably belongs in the starting lineup discussion, considering the way he moves the ball, the energy he brings to the court, and the fact that he’s the only one of the aforementioned guards to have played with LeBron and Anthony Davis. Entering a contract year, Reaves is absolutely right to advocate for the most minutes possible in the most advantageous of situations (i.e., next to both Lakers superstars).
Reaves isn’t a novelty anymore. Sure, he may get in the head a lot during practice and make some meme-able faces while talking through defensive rotations with LeBron, but he’s a talented, reliable guard who has already managed to deliver in clutch situations for the Lakers. Whether the perimeter rotation changes before training camp or not, Reaves’ existing body of work makes a strong case for an extensive role, as a starter or a reserve.
And if those extra minutes on the floor happen to bring some more viral moments for Reaves, then it’s a win-win for everyone.