Time and time again in recent years, Lakers fans have watched a young guard blossom from afterthought to impactful role player. From Alex Caruso to Talen Horton-Tucker (kind of!) to now Austin Reaves, the franchise keeps churning out guards regardless of whether they’re second round picks or even drafted at all.
Reaves had already put together a strong season before he broke out in a big way on Sunday with his career-high 35 points. It was a performance strong enough that it actually earned him a Western Conference Player of the Week nomination.
A number of things have gone into his strong season. The ball has been in his hands more, particularly since Russell Westbrook was traded and LeBron James went down with injury, and his 3-point shot has noticeably improved. But, perhaps the biggest thing that has gone more under the radar has been the increased frequency he’s getting to the line.
Reaves’ free throw rate — free throws attempted per field goal attempted — sits at .526 this year. It leads the Lakers this season, over both Anthony Davis and LeBron James. And they’ve noticed.
Anthony Davis said he and LeBron joke about Austin Reaves’ ability to get foul calls and draw free throws.— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 20, 2023
“Man, we wish we could get some of those,” Davis said.
For context, that’s an obscenely high number for a guard in this league. AD’s free throw rate sits at .449 while LeBron’s is at .278.
In fact, it’s a number that is among the very best in the league. Of guards in the NBA to play at least 1,200 minutes this season, only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a higher free throw rate than Reaves. Only that pair and Luka Doncic have a free throw rate of .500 or greater.
While it feels like this may have come out of nowhere, this was the type of player Reaves was in college. At Oklahoma in his final season, his free throw rate was .541 and for his career, it stood at .446. It speaks to how good Reaves is that he could adapt to what was largely an entirely different role last season and find success.
This season, by showcasing this improved skillset, it’s made him an even more valuable role player and opens up the possibilities for him moving forward. That’s a problem for the Lakers to address in the summer because, in the present, Reaves is only getting better and blossoming into a big-time player for the Lakers at the most important time of the season.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.