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Season Review: Austin Reaves

After proving to be a legitimate starter and playoff contributor, Austin Reaves has emerged as a critical cornerstone for the Lakers going forward.

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2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2022-23 season will be remembered for many things, but Austin Reaves’ ascension may end up being the most important development going forward.

Not only was there no sophomore slump for Reaves, but he took a giant step forward as he proved to be a bonafide starter and playoff contributor.

After his strong year, Reaves is primed for a lucrative offseason this summer. While the Lakers hold the cards in terms of his future in Los Angeles, there still remains questions on how expensive his next contract will be and how much more room he has left to grow.

How was their season?

Following his surprisingly impressive rookie season, Reaves once again exceeded expectations in year two. The 25-year-old got stronger, ironed out his jumper and handled an increased workload with ease.

While there does remain some skepticism from certain sections of the basketball sphere in terms of the legitimacy of his production, the numbers certainly paint a pristine picture.

Arguably one of the most efficient players in the league this past season, Reaves figuratively and literally made the most of every opportunity. Here is how the former undrafted free-agent fared amongst all other wings this year according to Cleaning the Glass:

  • 100th percentile in % of shot-attempts he was fouled on
  • 99th percentile in points per shot attempt
  • 97th percentile in FG% at the rim
  • 94th percentile in eFG%
  • 93rd percentile in FG% from midrange
  • 81st percentile in 3PT%
  • 80th percentile in AST%

Perhaps even more impressive than the numbers themselves was the sheer outward confidence Reaves played with. Despite the early season turbulence, roster makeover and a fluctuating role, Reaves continued to be the Lakers’ steady hand regardless of the situation he faced.

Time after time Reaves proved he no longer can be ignored. And soon, he’s gonna have to get paid accordingly because of it.

Should the Lakers bring them back?

A now legitimate cornerstone, the Lakers absolutely should do everything in their power to bring Reaves back into the fold.

Not only would he help maintain the team’s youth and continuity — an offseason priority according to Rob Pelinka — but Reaves also offers the Lakers’ stars a much needed release valve.

Reaves was afforded much more responsibility this season, specifically, in terms of orchestrating the offense in the half court. With or without LeBron James on the floor, the team’s coaching staff had confidence in putting the ball in the wing’s hands, even in the most high-pressure moments.

During the postseason, Reaves did not shy away from the moment — as he often found himself creating, taking and making shots when the Lakers needed them the most. His USG% jumped from 16.6% to 18.9%, and he was third on the team in time of possession and touches.

His viability as an on-ball option holds tremendous value given the murkiness of their point-guard situation, as well as assisting in lessening James’ workload.

Reaves has also shown to be one of the cleanest fits next to both James and Anthony Davis during their tenure with the team. Thanks to his ability to stretch the floor (44% from 3 in the playoffs) and operate as a cutter in a myriad of actions, Reaves’ game off the ball is invaluable.

The Lakers were a +16.4 in the minutes James, Davis and Reaves were on the floor this season. There likely will be some changes coming this offseason, but the team should do its best not to deviate from what continues to be a proven concept.

Will he return?

The Lakers are in prime position to retain Reaves if they choose to do so. However, it may be expensive.

After spending two seasons with the team, the Lakers hold Reaves’ early Bird Rights which enables them a few different avenues to bring him back:

1) The front-office can use his Bird Rights to sign him to a new deal starting at 175 percent of his current salary or 105 percent of the league’s average salary for the previous season. This equates to a deal roughly around $50 million-ish over four years. This is the best case scenario for the Lakers.

2) The front-office can match any offer that is made to Reaves this offseason, but potentially could have to pay a premium. Thanks to the Arenas Rule, an opposing team with cap space could pay Reaves max money in the back end of a four-year deal, inflating his total contract salary close to $98 million. Here’s a look at what that could look like annually courtesy of Eric Pincus:

  • Year 1: $11,368,000 (non-taxpayer mid-level exception)
  • Year 2: $11,936,400 (five percent raise)
  • Year 3: $36,850,000 (as if he were paid the maximum in years 1 and 2)
  • Year 4: $38,508,250 (4.5 percent raise)
  • Total: $98,662,650

According to multiple reports, the Lakers have already made it clear they will match any offer that is extended to Reaves this summer.

While their outward stance should be firm, there will still be — naturally — internal conversations regarding if he’s worth max-type money.

Questions like: will he able to replicate this season’s production consistently with an increased role? Does he still have more room to grow? How will his body hold up with more minutes and as one of the focal points of scouting reports on a nightly basis?

While these are all valid concerns, and ones the team will need to take into consideration, the new CBA potentially will make it difficult to simply go out and acquire players like Reaves with two stars already in tow. This arguably makes him more valuable to the Lakers than any other team on the market.

It remains to be seen how many suitors Reaves will ultimately have, and whether or not the team’s vocal stance will detract opposing squads from pursuing him.

But regardless of what transpires in the following months, Reaves and his play has made it clear he needs to be a part of the Lakers’ long-term plans. Fortunately, they have the ability to ensure that happens.

You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.

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