This summer across not only Laker-land but the NBA landscape as a whole, one name has dominated headlines and garnered praise from various coaches, players, and fans alike. That name is Los Angeles Lakers home-grown, soon-to-be star Austin Reaves. Soon-to-be might even be a reach with the way he has grown and developed over these short few months with Team USA.
His skill and, to a large extent, his confidence, have blossomed playing alongside some of the league’s premier young talent. He’s led the team in points one game, dazzled with flashy passes, and always has seemed to supply the necessary spark needed to drag Team USA out of slumps. Laker’s fans are rightfully thrilled to see this type of play from their undrafted third-year guard.
However, paired with Lakers’ bias, many fans of opposing teams point to Reaves’ season averages in an attempt to discredit the hype many fans have built around the young man from the sticks of Oklahoma. Many have even gone to the lengths of calling his Team USA selection a “wasted roster spot”.
In fairness, looking at his numbers with blinders on, he certainly doesn’t look like a future all-star, contrary to many purple and gold faithful. Fox Sports analyst Colin Cowherd even did a segment where he drew parallels to frankly bottom dwellers of the NBA role player bucket (they all just so happened to also be Caucasian, but I digress).
What many people are forgetting is that it takes time for young players to find their groove and fully acclimate to the intense demands of the NBA. Not every player can come in like LeBron James and average 20-5-6. Austin’s numbers in only his second year, however, although occasionally mocked, are eerily similar to one of if not the greatest Laker of all time.
Austin Reaves’ second-year numbers for the Lakers are eerily similar to Kobe Bryant.
If you look in the archives of the 1997-98 season you’ll find that a young shooting guard from Lower Merion High School ended up averaging 15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists for the purple and gold. Yes, if you are still curious that young man was Kobe Bryant. The same Kobe Bryant that helped lead the Lakers to 5 NBA Championships and 20 years of some of the best memories a sports fan could ask for.
For reference, Austin in his second season averaged 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. A bit uncanny just how close those season averages end up being. Unfortunately for his growth, the majority of his two years were played under the shadow of Russell Westbrook, and a large portion of his success came after the trade deadline when the team was able to shop Westbrook
This, in turn, put the ball more in Reaves’ hands. With rumors circulating this offseason about Reaves potentially handling the ball even more this upcoming season, it’s not a stretch to predict that his numbers will see a fairly healthy boost.
Now I am in no way saying the career trajectory expectations should be anywhere in the Kobe stratosphere, but what I am saying is that Lakers fans have every reason to be excited for this next era of Reaves.
If Austin Reaves continues the growth we’ve seen in a mere two seasons, there is no reason to not only expect another long career of great memories but hopefully even see LA’s favorite farm boy hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy over and over again.