After the All-Star break, the Lakers ended the season with an impressive 19-8 record. They looked like a completely different team following their trade deadline acquisitions.
They now have their sights set on the 2023-24 season, returning with most of their key players responsible for the Western Conference Finals run. The Lakers have also strategically filled out their roster this offseason, making them arguably the deepest teams in the league.
As deep as they are, certain players on this roster will significantly determine how far of a playoff run their revamped roster can make next season. This article delves into those three players and their importance as the Lakers make-or-break x-factors for a potential title run.
Lakers make-or-break player No. 1: Austin Reaves
As an undrafted guard, Austin Reaves has already come an incredibly long way. It would have been difficult to imagine him eventually signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Lakers when he first entered the league. Reaves’ contract is considered team-friendly and was the best move the Lakers made this offseason, providing them with financial flexibility to get other deals done. Reaves’ potential restricted free agency had the Lakers worried they might have to match a higher offer, but fortunately, they didn’t have to face that scenario.
The development of Reaves is crucial to the Lakers’ success next season. There’s a realistic chance he can continue his upward trajectory and become a borderline All-Star player. In that case, the Lakers can compete against elite teams in the West, like the defending champion Denver Nuggets and revamped Phoenix Suns.
Last season, Reaves averaged 13.0 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game on efficient 53/40/86 shooting splits. His impact increased as the season progressed, especially after Russell Westbrook’s departure. Reaves’ role evolved from a complementary floor spacer and ball mover to a playmaker who initiated offense, providing much-needed secondary playmaking to support LeBron James.
During the post-All-Star break run, the Lakers looked like a transformed team, with Reaves averaging 17.6 points and 5.5 assists per game. His stellar play carried over into the playoffs, where he continued to shine with an average of 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from three.
The Lakers’ head coach, Darvin Ham, has high hopes for Reaves, predicting that he will soon become an All-Star. Reaves already possesses the necessary confidence and work ethic to reach this level. However, the experience gained from playing with Team USA in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer could be the added boost he needs to elevate his game further.
Having a defined role as a playmaker with a higher usage rate next season and the experience gained from Team USA could propel Reaves toward becoming an All-Star caliber player. If this materializes, the Lakers could become an even more formidable team than last season, where they were already Western Conference Finals contenders.