Austin Reaves emerges as a rare win for Lakers during challenging season

Austin Reaves is congratulated by teammates after hitting a game-winning shot against the Mavericks
LeBron James and his teammates are mentoring undrafted rookie Austin Reaves, who has steadily improved this season.
(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

LeBron James, like he often does, pulled Austin Reaves to the side and fired off a string of instructions to the Lakers’ undrafted rookie. Reaves tried to process the information, his face quickly contorting into a state of total confusion, as if James suddenly started speaking Portuguese.

Finally, Reaves kind of shrugged.

Little did he know, TNT cameras captured it all and soon it was all over the internet.

“The first time ever being a meme, I guess,” Reaves said Friday.


Someone is always watching — a nice lesson for Reaves as he hits the 50-game mark in his first season in the NBA. Friday in the Lakers’ loss at Charlotte, Reaves again looked like a player with a real role in the team’s future.

Still in the early stages of transforming from an offensive focal point to a role player, Reaves has impressed with his willingness to operate in the less glamorous columns on the stat sheet.

“He’s doing a great job of learning and adjusting,” veteran teammate Carmelo Anthony said. “And figuring out, ‘OK, if I don’t have the ball in my hands, back cut, offensive rebound, loose balls.’ He’s been doing a great job with doing that, and crashing from the weak side, getting tip-outs, diving on the floor for loose balls, taking charges, getting hit in his face. It seems like he gets hit every play down the court.

“So he’s doing a great job of adjusting to that. I know it’s hard, especially coming from, like … having the ball in his hands since he was 14. Welcome to the NBA. The game’s not gonna be the same.”

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points but missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer as the Lakers, without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, lost 117-114 at Charlotte.

Jan. 28, 2022

After struggling at Philadelphia, Reaves and his teammates showed a lot more fight the next night against the Hornets. For Reaves, that meant drawing offensive fouls, crashing the glass to keep possessions alive and, in a more familiar role, scoring 16 points on 12 shots.

“The energy changed. You could feel it,” Reaves said. “I don’t know if you can really explain it or if you can pinpoint a time when it changed, but you could definitely feel it. ... We felt good, positive energy for a lot of the night. It wasn’t going our way in the first half, but we stuck to it. In the second half, we started getting results and made it a game.”


For all the things that have gone wrong for the Lakers — veterans who haven’t been able to consistently contribute, offseason signings saddled with injuries and the continued rockiness of the Russell Westbrook experiment — Reaves has been one of the biggest successes.

With the Lakers so financially committed to Anthony Davis, James and Westbrook, finding cheap, reliable talent is critical to making the roster successful.

But one of the challenges for young players in the NBA is to find results after a lifetime of judging success by metrics like points and assists. However, for someone like Reaves, who didn’t earn a full-time spot on the Lakers roster until just before training camp, it was easy to figure out what he’d need to do to matter on this team.

Lakers stars LeBron James (left knee soreness) and Anthony Davis (right wrist soreness) were ruled out for Friday night’s game at Charlotte.

Jan. 28, 2022

Friday, he had eight rebounds, a testament to effort, instincts and understanding that the easiest way to get the ball is to go grab it.

“This is probably the least I’ve played with the ball in my hands since either freshman or sophomore year, but we’ve got some of the best players to ever play the game,” Reaves said. “You really just have to find the things you can do to help be successful. If it’s playing defense, taking charges, offensive rebounding — you really just apply yourself to it. Don’t have a mentality where scoring is all that matters, getting assists are all that matters.

“There are multiple things you can do during a basketball game to help your team be successful.”


There haven’t been that many wins for the Lakers — but more often than not, it feels like Reaves is one of them.



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Update: The Lakers won’t have LeBron James, with his sore left knee sidelining him again after he didn’t play in losses to Philadelphia and Charlotte. It’s a decent bet that Anthony Davis will return, his status Friday on the second night of a back-to-back already up in the air before he hurt his right wrist. The Lakers need a win against the Hawks to end their six-game road trip at .500. If there’s another team in the NBA that can relate to being so far beneath expectations, it’s the Hawks. But behind All-Star starter Trae Young, Atlanta has won six in a row and climbed back into the playoff picture.