This was already supposed to be a really big year for Austin Reaves.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ third-year man, fresh off of signing four-year, $53 million contract to remain in Tinsel Town this past offseason, had sky-high expectations for this season following last year’s playoff run in which he emerged as arguably the third-best player on the team.
But with the recent news that LeBron James is expected to be held to a career-low in minutes as he begins his 21st season in the NBA, the pressure on Reaves to make another leap in his game is higher than ever.
James, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, played just 29 minutes in the Lakers’ season opener against the Denver Nuggets, racking up a team-high 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one steal in a 119-107 loss.
The expectation is that that will be the norm for most of the year.
Aside from James and Taurean Prince, the rest of Los Angeles’ squad struggled for most of the night, particularly Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis, all of whom will be crucial now that James will have more time on the bench.
Of those three, Reaves may be the most crucial to the Lakers’ success this season.
Now, while Davis is the face of the franchise next to James, his inconsistent play from game-to-game hurts his impact, especially in the non-James minutes where he’ll be relied upon more.
After dropping 17 points in the first half, Davis was a no-show in the final two quarters, finishing with 0 points in the second half while grabbing just eight rebounds against Denver.
So, with Davis’ volatile nature, James and the Lakers will need Reaves to steady the ship, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.
The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported earlier in the offseason that the Lakers plan on running more of their offense through Reaves this season. They want to continue unlocking the point guard skills he’s shown through his first two years in the league
Coming off an excellent showing in the playoffs in which he averaged 16.9 points and shot 43 percent from three-point range, Reaves has been elevated to being a full-time starter. But he needs to be better than what he showed in the loss to the reigning champs.
In 31 minutes of action—fourth-highest on the team—Reaves had 14 points on a rough 4-of-11 shooting from the field while racking up eight boards, four assists and two steals, showing some of that all-around ability that has made Lakers’ nation fall in love with him.
However, the offensive efficiency needs to be better, particularly when the rest of the Lakers’ starters outside of James shot 17-of-37 from the floor.
Reaves wound up being a -14 for Los Angeles last night, tied for the second-worse mark on the team. And although it’s a very small, one-game sample size, that can’t be the trend if the Lakers want to survive the minutes that James isn’t on the floor.
Players, coaches and execs have been raving about Reaves all offseason. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr even called him one of the best young players in the league following their time together on Team USA during the FIBA World Cup.
He’s been sold as part of the Lakers’ big three along with James and Davis. So, here’s a clear opportunity for him to go out there and really stake his claim to that title and all those accolades, proving that he’s much more than just a bridge to the Lakers’ future.
Reaves needs to be their present.