Frank Vogel and the Los Angeles Lakers are still trying to find the most reliable role players and lineup combinations in am injury-riddled and thus-far disappointing season. The latest player to make a case for more inclusion in the rotation is Austin Reaves.
The rookie had seemingly been dropped from Vogel’s rotation after an extended injury made him unavailable for weeks. But on Friday, with the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back following a frustrating loss to the Grizzlies, Reaves was given an opportunity and did not disappoint.
The guard finished with a career high 13 points and his mature and intelligent play that has been the subject of praise from his coaches and teammates showed up once again.
Reaves certainly showed that he was capable of shouldering more responsibility, albeit against a weak Thunder team (and yes, I know what happened in the previous two games against them). The Lakers outscored the Thunder by 17 points in Reaves’ 27 minutes, the third best mark on the team after LeBron James and Russell Westbrook and by far the best of the bench players.
It was not just Reaves’ scoring display or his strong defense that stood out. The rookie kept making smart plays that did not always show up in the scoreboard. As the Thunder started to close out hard on shooters after the Lakers’ lights out display in the first half, Reaves was arguably the most impactful Laker at attacking those closeouts and creating advantages for his team.
Extend the advantage pic.twitter.com/KOjzqzYgio
— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) December 11, 2021
The Lakers are still trying to build their chemistry and get to a championship mindset across the board. Role players that stand out above the rest and can step in to always produce and play smart are a huge part of that development, something that Avery Bradley — another Laker who outperformed expectation on Friday — highlighted in his post-game press conference in regards to Reaves.
AB was talking about how role players on a team with 3 stars have to find ways to affect the game outside of just scoring, before giving an example.
"I mean, look at Austin: Hadn't been playing, came in, had his career-high, and played well on both ends of the floor."
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 11, 2021
Ultimately this will come down to choices made by Vogel as to who he can trust to perform alongside his big three. Each of the options have positives and downsides but in his few minutes so far this season, Reaves has certainly shown some reliability and consistency despite being a rookie. Whether that translates to a bigger role remains to be seen but for now Reaves is winning his coaches, teammates, and Lakers fans over and winning a spot in an ever-changing rotation.