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Can Cam Reddish turn potential into practical?

The 24-year-old and the Lakers are hoping this is the year when things finally fall into place for him.

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Cam Reddish.

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”

Originally uttered by Robert De Niro’s character in a conversation with his son in 1993’s “A Bronx Tale,” the quote has since become one of the most iconic Dad-isms. Beyond De Niro’s earnest delivery, the line’s lasting power is due to its universal meaning as it could be applied to nearly anything, from life itself, to sports.

Not everyone has talent. Nor does everyone have the capability or drive to make the most of it. Whether it’s everyday people, or the world’s best athletes, the individuals who do make the most of their opportunities and blessings are typically the ones who separate themselves from the pack.

Still just 24, Cam Reddish is among the lucky individuals dripping with innate advantages. The former 10th overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft entered the league full of promise, boasting a combination of elite physical tools and flashes of greatness frequent enough to leave him at one point the No. 1 ranked player in his high school class.

Since joining the professional ranks, however, Reddish has yet to live up that potential. There have been glimpses that serve as reminders of why he was such a coveted prospect coming out of Duke, but that has not translated to consistent on-court results as he has bounced around the league in each of his first four seasons as a pro.

Now Reddish finds himself on the Lakers on a minimum deal in what is a critical inflection point of his career. If he hopes to course correct his trajectory, he will have to show the rest of the NBA that his talent will no longer go wasted. It’s time for his potential to become something practical.

What is his best-case scenario?

Following in the footsteps of recent Lakers who signed minimum contracts like Malik Monk, Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder, Reddish’s deal with the Lakers is a bet on himself. And like Monk and Schröder before him — and after similarly failing to find his footing in each of his stops so far — a strong showing from Reddish this season could lead to a more lucrative opportunity in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

For Reddish, his pathway to success is pretty straightforward: be a multi-faceted defender, bring athleticism and hit open shots.

While each of these of these skills have waxed and waned in his short career, arguably the most consistent attribute to Reddish’s game thus far has been his defense. Given his aforementioned physical tools which include being 6’8, sporting a 7-foot-plus wingspan and an 8’9 12 standing reach, Reddish has the prototypical anthropometrics that every team covets at the wing position.

If his effort level can catch up those tools consistently, then Reddish theoretically could become an extremely useful, versatile defender that the Lakers can lean on to shore up the perimeter. It is easy to imagine how a player with his size and length could be helpful against opposing stars and a physical team like Denver in particular.

Beyond defense, the best-case outcome for Reddish this year will also see him take notable strides in his offensive game. A potentially good player for Reddish to try and model his game after this season is the aforementioned Walker.

Through his athleticism, Walker emerged as one of the team’s best downhill threats and exciting open-court players last year. But when Walker was at his best, he balanced his highlight plays with a reliable jumper.

Of a similar mold, Reddish could help fill the hole Walker leaves behind in regards to the pressure he puts on the rim. But he will also need to keep defenses honest from the outside in the process. A career 32.2% shooter from beyond the arc overall, Reddish is only slighter better on his catch-and-shoot attempts (33.4%). Both of those will need to significantly improve if he wants to post his first season with an average eFG% for a wing.

If Reddish can finally inch closer to the two-way player that many envisioned he could be, then he has every chance of being the next success story for the Lakers.

What is his worst-case scenario?

If making strides in key places and improved consistency can lead to Reddish’s best season to date, his worst-case scenario may ultimately be just him playing like he has. That may sound cruel, but there are reasons why Reddish finds himself scrapping to keep his spot in the league.

Between his mental lapses, inconsistent effort level and inefficient play, the 24-year-old has yet to prove he can contribute to winning basketball. That’s not entirely unexpected given his age, but the flashes throughout the years have increasingly come less often. This has led every team he’s been a part of so far to cut ties, even with his potential as high as it remains.

When he suits up for the Lakers for the first time, Reddish will already have played for his fourth team. And in what may be his most damning stat, he has yet to play in more than 49 games in a single season since his rookie year.

Last season, Reddish fell out of the Knicks’ favor and rotation with Tom Thibodeau citing it as a move that was simply best for the team. While not entirely due to his benching (and later trade to the Trail Blazers), it is worth noting New York would go on to play much better without Reddish and eventually make it to the second round of the playoffs.

It is not entirely unrealistic that Reddish once again finds himself as the odd man out if not enough progress is made. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time.

What is his most likely role on the team?

Although Reddish was one of the first players the Lakers signed this offseason, his role on the team remains a bit murky. As previously discussed, on paper Reddish fills the archetype of a wing the Lakers have been looking for. And even though Jared Vanderbilt’s arrival at the trade deadline last season helped fill the need, no team can have too much wing defense.

The issue, however, is even if Reddish does play well, there are only so many minutes to go around. After a strong summer that saw the Lakers radically improve their depth, there is expected to be a lot of competition simply to make the rotation.

Outside of the starting group, Reddish will also have to compete with the likes of the aforementioned Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince and Max Christie for playing time.

Realistically then, Reddish will settle in somewhere in the 8-10 man range of the rotation if his play remains at the status quo. In certain matchups where his defensive size and acumen are needed, he could see more opportunity.

It is not out of the question that Reddish forces Darvin Ham’s hand and establishes himself as a player who deserves consistent playing time. A strong training camp and preseason will be critical for him in that regard. But it will be the long game that dictates how substantial his role will actually be on the Lakers going forward.

Reddish has started out strong before, most recently with the Knicks last season. Yet there has come a time in each of his stops when the honeymoon period has come to an abrupt end.

If this is the season where things finally fall into place, it will be because there has been a shift both on and off the court.

That job in the NBA that once felt guaranteed — and owed — is now something Reddish must prove is deserved

It’s like De Niro’s character Lorenzo once told his son: “You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't do the right thing, then nothing happens. But when you do right, guess what, good things happen.”

Reddish still has every opportunity to realize his potential, but it will take his talent — and doing the right things — for it to finally produce results.

You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.

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