If you had to ask any NBA coach to describe Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves’s skillset in one word, I’d imagine that word would be “solid”. That’s because Austin does everything you’d want from a high-level role player. Since the All-Star Break, Reaves is averaging 14.7 points & five assists in 26 minutes per game while also shooting 58.3% from the field and 46.2% from 3-point range.
Reaves also does many things that don’t pop up on the stat sheet but are monumental to this team’s success.
This first play is the epitome of what Reaves is capable of on the defensive end that isn’t going to be found in the stat sheet. Josh Hart clears out to the corner and Austin stops to protect Rui Hachimura from the baseline drive. This however creates a cross-match and now Anthony Davis is guarding Hart while Reaves is left to guard Isaiah Hartenstein and protect the rim. Dennis Schroder gets beat baseline, and Reaves steps up and takes the charge. Amazing defensive possession early in the game.
This play is easily the one that is going to get the least amount of attention. The Raptors run a good action SOB (sideline out of bounds) that gets Fred VanVleet attacking Schroder downhill. With this “empty” side ball screen, there is no tag on the roll man. However, Reaves is in help at the nail and “stunts” just enough to force VanVleet to shoot a much more difficult stepback jumper. The Raptors shoot a porous 30% on off-the-dribble 3-pointers so this is an excellent job by Reaves.
One area in which I think Reaves has done a much better job this season is with his ball-screen navigation. Raptors start the possession off with “delay” (5-out) action that flows into a pindown for Gary Trent Jr. Reaves does a great job getting skinny and chasing Trent overtop the screen, not allowing him to get a clean look at a three. When the play flows into a side ballscreen, Austin once again fights over the top and does a great job contesting on the Trent mid-range jumper.
Vision/Ball Screen Offense
In a league where 80-90% of teams run severely heavy dosages of pick-and-rolls (sorry Kings & Warriors), it has become imperative to be able to score and operate out of high ball screens. The Lakers rank 10th in the NBA per Synergy in field goal attempts off of pick-and-rolls and fifth in points per game off pick-and-rolls. Reaves especially in the absence of LeBron James has been a big part of that.
Against the New York Knicks, the Lakers go with a “double drag ball-screen” set, a staple under Coach Darvin Ham thus far. When the initial play doesn’t work, Wenyen Gabriel initiates a handoff with Austin; he does a great job of pinning Miles McBride to his hip and hits Hartenstein with an insane euro-step using a nice change of direction to make the layup.
Against the Raptors, the Lakers run their “zipper fist” SOB play. With how the Raptors are guarding Davis, as long as Reaves receives a good screen, he should have a downhill angle toward the rim with minimal help or he’ll have a wide-open Troy Brown Jr. if Pascal Siakam helps. However, most teams prefer not to help off the ball-side corner and Reaves gets a wide-open layup.
Same play, this time against the Knicks late in the fourth quarter. Going with the double-drag ball screen with D’Angelo Russell as one of the screeners is lethal. RJ Barrett isn’t allowed to truly help because of that. The Knicks also can’t tag Davis on the roll here since the Lakers do not have someone in the corner. Reaves delivers a perfect pass and the Lakers get a crucial bucket down the stretch.
This time the Lakers go high pick-and-roll and the Knicks are in an aggressive drop coverage with Mitchell Robinson in the game. Reaves does a great job recognizing Julius Randle tagging on the Davis roll toward the rim. This leads to a wide-open Hachimura three that he, unfortunately, can’t convert on.
The Lakers’ scouting department has struck gold once again on another prospect. Reaves has become one of the most valued role players in the entire NBA because of his abilities on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t do anything outside of his role, he doesn’t shoot a ton of shots, he’s just solid. If the Lakers want to hit their ceiling as a team and make a deep postseason push they are going to need the recent play from Austin Reaves to continue.