Lost amidst in the rubble of a tumultuous 2021-22 season were the unexpected contributions of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Austin Reaves. Undrafted out of Oklahoma, little would’ve been expected of Reaves for his debut season considering the considerable level of experience on the Lakers’ roster. But due to a combination of underwhelming performances and a multitude of injuries, Reaves impressively carved out a spot for himself in the Lakers’ regular rotation.
Overall, the 6-foot-5 Reaves posted 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his 61 appearances. A versatile wing with the ability to handle the ball and score in a variety of ways, Reaves’ opportunities and overall level of play increased as the season progressed. Ultimately, the 24-year-old wound up starting 19 of the final 22 games of the season as another Los Angeles Lakers season came to a halting end with a 33-49 record.
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
The Los Angeles Lakers bank on Austin Reaves taking the next step this year.
While he more than held his own in a starting role, it was in his customary role as a reserve that Reeves shone the brightest. In 42 games off the bench, Reaves registered an 8.0 net rating in 21.6 minutes per game. To put this context, among the reserves than played at least 40 games and averaged at least 20 minutes per game, Reaves’ net rating ranked only behind Jordan Clarkson and De’Anthony Melton. Clarkson finished fourth in Sixth Man of the Year voting, having won the award the previous season, whereas Melton finished eighth.
In fact, Reaves led all rookies this past season in total plus/minus when in a reserve role with an overall plus-152, a highly commendable achievement considering the Lakers’ porous overall record. Furthermore, this placed the Arkansas native behind only Immanuel Quickley of the New York Knicks in this category among all reserves whose teams did not feature in the postseason action.
Considering the dire state of the team last season, it’s come as no surprise that the Lakers’ front office has notably shaken things up this offseason. Gone from last season are a host of veterans including Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, DJ Augustin and Rajon Rondo.
In their place are a host of younger, more athletic options including Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Additionally, the Lakers have placed the future of incumbent starting point guard Russell Westbrook in great peril, both with the recent trade to acquire Patrick Beverley, and the signing of free agent and ex-Laker Dennis Schroder.
The lineup decisions to come will be Darvin Ham’s, league sources say, but as it stands on Sept. 16: The Lakers head to training camp viewing Westbrook and Schroder as lead guards, PatBev as another 2-guard alongside Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves as a 3 behind LeBron James. https://t.co/sTQx9kE6ur
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) September 16, 2022
So with a host of new personnel on board, this certainly raises the question: where does Reaves fit in the new setup, furthermore with a new head coach in Darvin Ham? As Marc Stein noted above, with Westbrook and Schroder likely leading the backcourt, and LeBron James certain to be the starting small forward, Reaves’ role likely will replicate that of his rookie season, where according to Basketball Reference, he spent 47 percent of the season at shooting guard and 47 percent at the small forward spot.
And while nothing can be guaranteed, the production and self-belief on display to this point should mean the Austin Reaves and Los Angeles Lakers relationship will prove fruitful this coming season and beyond.