Before going into their game against the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers just suffered back-to-back losses that pushed them down to the 12th spot in the West at 34-37. And as we’ve witnessed this year’s race to the playoffs, losing or winning a game or two can quickly change the math. For the Purple & Gold, they absolutely can’t afford to have another stinker.
The past few weeks have been tough for the Lakers, with superstar LeBron James being sidelined with an ankle injury. With the uncertainty of when he will be able to return to the court, their main issue in this current stretch has been finding consistency on offense
Looking at the numbers, the Lakers are 18th in offensive rating (114.9) while having the third-best defensive rating (110.0) in the last 11 games without James. If you ask for a punch, Anthony Davis has been averaging 26.2 points and 13 rebounds, though there’s some volatility on what type of the Brow you get every single game. D’Angelo Russell remains to have a stellar shooting season, draining at a 39.6% clip from deep during this stretch.
But they can only do so much, especially when the opposition is keyed in on them defensively. Who could be the other guy who can help the offensive flow of the Lakers? In this game, Austin Reaves may have fully solidified.
Austin Reaves has emerged as a big offensive threat for the Lakers.
Reaves’ performance is not something under the radar because, when healthy, he’s proven himself as a solid contributor and fits into the Lakers’ ecosystem. A primary ball-handler off the bench that can self-create and find his teammates in optimal situations, which he indeed showed versus the Magic.
Speaking of why Reaves has been a perfect complementary player for the team, out of the gate, his very first possession emphasized its essence:
In this clip, it was evident that Reaves understands how to run the ‘pick-and-roll’ with Anthony Davis. With the roll gravity Davis presents, he sees that Wendell Carter (playing the drop coverage) was reluctant to leave his man, while being able to put the defender behind by utilizing the screen properly – ending up with a wide-open pull-up jumper.
And when it mattered the most in the clutch, the Lakers again went to the same exact play. This time, Davis didn’t fully dive to the basket yet, but Reaves made the right read by getting to his spot, with the coverage being in a drop once more. End result: a crucial go-ahead bucket.
Another aspect of Reaves’ impact on the Lakers’ offense is his ability to generate paint touches. Those paint touches can open up a myriad of scoring opportunities for other players or for himself as well, with defenses being bent and forced to show help on Reaves’ drives.
That was most prevalent during this game, which propelled them to the win. First off, we peep at the shots Reaves created for his teammates. Although there’s no guarantee that these looks would all be converted, one thing to assess is the shot quality, where Reaves succeeded in giving them great chances.
A Vanderbilt alley-oop finish; a Schröder basket from long range (from a hockey assist); and, though a miss, Hachimura’s open three-point shot. These are attempts that Coach Ham and the whole Lakers would be pleased to take.
Take into account that Reaves is averaging 5.3 assists since the James injury (2.9 assists for the season) and also has the third-best assist percentage in the team at 29%. For context, the preceding advanced stat states 29% of his passes are made field goals. Good stuff that you need from a primary ball handler.
Austin Reaves is still learning on the job.
Still in the painting touches stage, people have raised some concerns about how the second-year Laker is drawing too many fouls. Is it because he’s foul-mouthed, or maybe he’s just aggressive?
The answer to those two arguments is yes. There are definitely times when Reaves just outsmarts defenders to bait them into cheap fouls, but he might also be putting himself in situations where the referees are challenged to call fouls.
Essentially, this is why his dribble penetrations need to be discussed, because we could be only looking at the free throw numbers and not how they are initiated. Let the film do the talking for now.
The last note to explain the love Reaves has been getting from the Laker fans is the intangibles he does. Every time he steps inside the hardwood, you just know that 100% effort will be exerted.
Here’s one possession to encapsulate that thought. He misses the three, and hustles back to coral the rebound, en route to finding Schröder for an outside shot.
Even with the inconsistency of play, the Lakers are still in the hunt for a play-in or even an outright playoff spot at 35-37 – thanks to the shaky Western Conference this season. They have the tools to make the offense work, and aforementioned earlier, the defense has started to perk up as of late.
If they intend to reach that goal, they will need to have the same Austin Reaves to perform game per game.