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Lakers newsletter: Austin Reaves continues to draw raves from his teammates

Austin Reaves reacts after making the game-winning shot Wednesday.
Austin Reaves reacts after making the game-winning shot Wednesday.
(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike writing from the very fancy airport lounge at DFW airport. It’s the one travel perk I refuse to surrender, clinging to my free muffins, WiFi and electrical outlets as if I’d collapse into a ball without them.

Anyway, yeah, it’s kind of a weird time to be traveling with the Lakers, following a COVID-19 outbreak as it works its way through a vaccinated team, but here we are. We’ll get to that in this week’s newsletter, but first, some spare thoughts on the many-nicknamed Austin Reaves.

AR-15, Hillbilly Kobe (HBK), “Light skinned”

You pick it, the Lakers have called their undrafted rookie almost everything other than his fittingly Texan name, Austin, this season. (Credit to Trevor Ariza and DeAndre Jordan for bestowing the last nickname on their teammate).

They’ve raved about his poise, about his maturity, about his confidence, about his swagger, about his toughness and about his intensity. Now, they can talk about his guts.

In a game that the Lakers sorta felt destined to lose — good shooters missing wide-open shots, the Mavericks answering every big one the Lakers managed to make in dramatic fashion — Reaves walked off the court the hero.

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At the end of the kind of possession that had Frank Vogel beaming, the Lakers moved the ball to the open man from LeBron James to Wayne Ellington to Russell Westbrook, who finally found Reaves open on the other side of the floor.

The shot was a beauty — all net. And Reaves, for good measure, might’ve even been fouled. As he walked out of the arena Wednesday night, he acknowledged that it was the kind of moment he’d never forget — and it was easy to believe him because the game ball was still tucked under his arm.

But let’s take a step back for a minute and examine the wild circumstances that even led to this opportunity.

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For one, it’s another big scouting victory for the Lakers — a team that’s been terrific picking late in the draft and scouring the NBA’s minor leagues for talent (bet you remember Alex Caruso). For teams with so much more tied up in a small group of players and so many future draft picks currently slamming hurricanes on Bourbon St., finding players like Reaves who can contribute sooner than later is just absolutely critical.

And Reaves has shown that he has the smarts and the ability to be on the floor with the team – good thing usually happen when he’s paired with the team’s stars.

But there’s a flip side to this (can’t always be sunshine, especially with this team), and that has to do with WHY Reaves has looked so good.

At least part of it is the sharp contrast between his ability to impact the team on both sides of the floor and so many other guys on the roster who are merely specialists.

The lack of true two-way players could eventually be the team’s undoing. The Lakers hope Ariza’s nearing return and the eventual addition of Kendrick Nunn will help mitigate those things. At least one scout told me he believed Nunn would end up being the Lakers’ best perimeter defender this season (a role Avery Bradley has filled mostly admirably).

“This is the year-round process of NBA basketball, finding guys like this, and he’s been terrific,” Vogel said. “I told him after the game it was a hell of a shot, but it really was about the whole game that he played. He played great defense, he made extra passes, he competed and obviously knocked down big shots when the ball was swung to him.”

A note on underdogs

One thing has struck me about Reaves this season and the way people talk about and write about him.

There’s definitely a sense that he doesn’t belong, that small-town kids that go undrafted don’t end up in the NBA and certainly don’t end up on teams with legends like LeBron James.

But while Reaves will acknowledge that to an extent, he also carries himself with a tremendous amount of confidence and not a lot of surprise that he’s in the spot that he’s in.

For a player like him, the most important thing is that he believes he belongs. If he didn’t, there’d be no way his teammates would ever buy it.

And they do.

One other reminder

With the Lakers dealing with what feels like the early stages of a full-blown COVID-19 outbreak after three players and multiple members of their traveling party positive for the virus, it’s presence in pro sports right now is inescapable.

As we walked to the bus postgame, Reaves got diverted to a room off the main hallway in Dallas, where a postgame COVID-19 test awaited him — the chance to build on that momentum riding on the result.

Stories you might have missed

Lakers’ Russell Westbrook and Avery Bradley enter NBA’s COVID protocols

Lakers planning to sign Isaiah Thomas if granted a hardship exception

Elliott: Austin Reaves turns LeBron James lectures into adulation with faith-validating shot

Talen Horton-Tucker delivers big performance the Lakers were waiting to see

Why the NBA killed the Chris Paul trade to Lakers and preferred the Clippers

Lakers’ DeAndre Jordan reflects on the ‘grind’ he endured on path to 10,000 rebounds

Song of the week

The War on Drugs (feat. Lucius) “I Don’t Live Here Anymore

I’m not as diligent as a listener as I probably should be, but when a band I love (and I LOVE The War on Drugs) appears on the podcast “Song Exploder”, I pretty much drop everything and move it to the top of my podcast list.

The latest episode dives into the making of the title track of the band’s newest album, a song I really liked before. But like listening to a coach breakdown film on a key play, hearing frontman Adam Granduciel talk about the writing and recording process made me appreciate it so much more.

Check it out!

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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