The Los Angeles Lakers have turned their season around.
They have won eight of their last 10 games, and started a six-game road trip 2-0. Will their season turn back in the wrong direction is anyone’s guess, but for now the Lakers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Success begins with their best player, Anthony Davis. He has scored less than 30 points in only three of the Lakers’ last 10 games. His MVP-level play has been the catalyst to the Lakers’ winning ways, but all of the team’s elements have contributed. A major one has been last-season’s undrafted free-agent signing, Austin Reaves.
Davis was spectacular in the Lakers’ eye-popping 133-129 Friday night victory, on the road, against the Milwaukee Bucks. He outdueled Giannis Antetokounmpo by scoring 44 points on 67 percent from the field and making some timely defensive plays. He was also one of two Lakers who played the entire fourth quarter.
Reaves was the other one. He only recorded one assist in the quarter, and would have gotten another if a beautiful corner 3-pointer that he set up wasn’t missed. On defense he was active, but no stopper. Reaves was the star of the show during the Lakers’ victory on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers with his 22 points. He only scored seven against the Bucks, but he was plus-17 on the night.
For the season, the Lakers’ offensive rating is 6.2 points per 100 possessions better when Reaves is on the floor and their defensive rating is only a couple of points worse. He’s nudging his way into 50/40/90 territory with his 10.4 points per game on 53.4/38.7/91.3 shooting splits while playing 28.7 minutes per game.
Reaves is also the only Laker to have played in every single game this season.
He was pressed into action as a rookie last year out of desperation on a roster that lacked depth. Reaves almost immediately became a steady contributor. Starting the Lakers’ sixth game, when healthy he was consistently on the floor for 20 or more minutes per game. A hamstring injury and a stint on the Health and Safety Protocols list, cost him a lot of time early in the season, but starting on New Year’s Eve he was a staple in the Laker lineup the rest of the way.
Like most rookies, he struggled with his shot and on the defensive end of the floor. During the 2022 portion of last season’s schedule he only attempted 5.4 field goals per game and still shot 45.1 percent from the floor. He was also only averaging two free-throw attempts per, and this is with Davis missing a great deal of time due to injury.
However, the strengths that he showed at Oklahoma did carry over to the league. He’s a tall, crafty scorer, who can be trusted to not panic with the ball in his hands. It was only a matter of time before his shooting percentages improved. What the Lakers needed from him, especially if he was going to play significant minutes, was to be more aggressive.
Since the Lakers started this successful run, Reaves has been averaging seven shots per game and nearly four free-throw attempts. As his activity with the ball in his hands has increased so have his shooting percentages — 60/46.7/92.3. Also, his assists have increased and his turnovers have decreased.
For all that the Lakers’ roster lacks, they have found a key contributor in this 24-year-old from Newark, Ark. A young player who they can trust to be where he is supposed to be, and not make back-breaking mistakes. Throw in the fact that an already efficient scorer becomes even more efficient with more touches with an increased workload, who the hell needs a first-round pick.
If the Lakers winning ways are going to continue in their next game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of their road trip, and beyond, of course Davis will have to continue his dominance. But the Lakers will also have to squeeze every bit of production they can out of the young Reaves.