The Los Angeles Lakers’ preseason was marred by injuries and a winless run as new teammates got acclimated to each other. Still, there were plenty of flashes to get fans excited for what should be an interesting and potentially dominant team. One of those bright spots was the play of undrafted rookie Austin Reaves.
Reaves had already turned enough heads within the organization at a LeBron James-organized minicamp in Las Vegas to earn himself one of the 14 guaranteed contracts the Lakers have heading into the season. His play in the preseason only served to increase that hype.
Reaves averaged 7.5 points and 2.8 assists per game while knocking down 10-of-29 3-pointers, including a poor 1-of-8 shooting night in Thursday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings.
More than the numbers, however, Reaves seemed to impress his coaches and teammates with his intelligence and willingness to learn and pick up the Lakers’ system quickly. Rajon Rondo, one of the most famously smart players in the league, spoke at length this week about his impression of Reaves and his curious attitude in practices, in particular calling the Wichita State product “fearless.”
“He plays the right way. Obviously, he’s a knock-down shooter and he’s always asking me questions,” Rondo told reporters. “He sits next to me on the bench, he talks to coach Phil [Handy] and Coach Mike Penberthy, so he’s obviously a sponge and a student of the game, and I think that’s going to be great for his development and his future.”
Rondo went on to recount a story about Reaves asking about specific defensive coverages that the Lakers don’t even run, showing his depth of knowledge before even getting into the team’s practice facility.
When he wasn’t busy laughing at jokes about Reaves being the new Alex Caruso, LeBron was also complimentary of his new teammate and his standing in the NBA (h/t Jacob Rude of Silver Screen and Roll):
“I watched a lot of film on him when we drafted him, actually. I knew right away that he could be an NBA player and play at this level,” LeBron James said after Tuesday’s game. “His size, his shot-making ability, his pick-and-roll play, his passing, a high IQ kid and he’s got a lot of dog in him, too, that translates to our game.”
Reaves, who admitted recently that he asked the Detroit Pistons not to draft him so he could go to the Lakers instead, has a chance of playing some major minutes to start the year. Confirmed absences to Talen Horton-Tucker and Trevor Ariza, as well as lighter injuries to Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Wayne Ellington could have the rookie being thrown into the NBA fire while the Lakers continue to get acclimated to a brand new roster and offensive system.
Head coach Frank Vogel was coy about those plans after Thursday’s “dress rehearsal” in which Reaves played 29 minutes but did offer the statement that the rookie had “done enough to earn my trust.”
Austin Reaves represents an important niche on the Lakers roster: a young player who can improve the team internally through this LeBron-led championship window and fit in as a replacement for older players who could miss time with injuries and designated rest.
And while the sudden importance may have been overwhelming for most rookies in Reaves’ situation, “Hillbilly Kobe” says that it has only made him hungrier to contribute: “For them to trust me enough to look for me and give me opportunities to make plays is special and it just boosts my confidence even more.”