The amount of talent in the NBA is exponentially expanding, and it has led to later draft picks or undrafted free agents making a real name for themselves in the Association through hard work and undeniable skill.
In Los Angeles, they found a hidden gem in the 2021 draft class with Austin Reaves. Reaves was left behind by all thirty teams until the Lakers brought him onto the roster. With Reaves’ growth into a dynamic starter next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have not looked back at their decision once.
Entering free agency, LA was at risk of losing Reaves in restricted free agency on a poison pill contract. After his tremendous performance in the 2023 playoffs, reports suggested Austin Reaves was drawing attention for a contract nearing $100 million over four years. Later, it was revealed that the San Antonio Spurs were ready to offer Reaves $21 million per season but knew that the Lakers were prepared to match any offer placed in front of their talent.
In the end, Reaves signed a surprisingly cheap 4-year, $56 million deal to remain in LA long-term. This was the maximum money the Lakers could offer Reaves without matching another team’s contract. Not only did this show Reaves’ loyalty to Los Angeles, but it also showed the culture around developing talent the Lakers are embracing.
Later in the summer, Reaves was named to Team USA and has shined in that role. It seems the hype for Austin Reaves entering the 2023-24 season could not be higher. From his versatile offense to his inspired defense, the young guard will look to exceed every high expectation this year.
What realistic expectations can Lakers fans have for Austin Reaves?
On the court, expect to see Reaves play against tougher defense than last year. In 2022-23, Reaves was a sort of secret weapon for the Lakers as all eyes were on James and Davis. Now, the league is on notice of Reaves’ talent, and rival teams were certainly gameplan to slow him down.
This will probably lead to some downward stretches in the course of the season as Reaves adjusts to the heightened competition. In time, though, there is no doubt that his determined work ethic pushes him through, and Reaves will have the best scoring season of his career.
His time playing on the international stage will keep Reaves fresh and prepared for opening night. After averaging only 13 points last season, his scoring catapulted to 16.9 points per game in the playoffs. He unlocked another level to his game in an instant, and Team USA has let Reaves spend all summer playing with and learning from some of the NBA’s most elite talent.
What is Reaves’ ceiling this season, then? Will he be on the All-Star team in the West? Probably not. While Reaves is growing and becoming a lethal player, free agency brought a lot of new talent to the Western Conference, and other backcourt players are also becoming stars.
Reaves’ Team USA teammate Anthony Edwards is probably the best example of the kind of competition Reaves will face in an attempt to get an All-Star nod. Alongside a near guarantee that Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, and Luka Doncic will also be on the roster, players such as Fred VanVleet and Bradley Beal will be new contenders for West All-Star appearances.
That is not to say that Reaves has no chance, but an All-Star selection will not be the defining part of his season. Reaves will no doubt continue his dominant defense, making him one of the best two-way guards in the NBA by the end of the season. Even if he does not get recognized for it in a midseason accolade, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic toward an All-NBA or All-Defense team for Austin Reaves this year.
Off-court, Reaves is showing that he wants to make himself and the Lakers better.
Additionally, Reaves will impact the Lakers’ culture. There is no denying that Team USA is where players develop close relationships with their peers, and that can lead to recruiting talent to your team. Austin Reaves is a likable and trustworthy teammate. His presence for Team USA has been felt by the crowd, the opponents, and most importantly his running mates.
Rumors have begun to appear that Reaves is working to convince Brooklyn Nets breakout star Mikal Bridges to join the ranks in the city of angels. With LeBron James’ future in LA in question as he enters his twenty-first NBA season, the next era of Lakers basketball will need to discover another star to put next to Anthony Davis. Bridges will be a free agent (barring any extension) in 2026. Reaves seems to know the LA timeline and might be planting the seeds now.
In total, Austin Reaves will likely have the most impactful season of his career both on the court and off the court. His behavior on Team USA suggests Reaves is more than an inspiring story or skilled starter. He is growing into a leader for the Lakers, dedicated to the organization’s present and future. Expect to see that translate in every facet this season.