Between a fright of injuries, the lack of logical framework in a completely renewed project and an endless succession of defeats (six in six games), the Lakers preseason has had little good news, in the absence of the real dance starting and with the heavyweights (LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, the newcomer) asking for patience. Of course, Frank Vogel has to completely rebuild a rotation in which there are many casualties, some substantial in sports … and socially. Perhaps none as painful as that of Alex Caruso, a favorite of the laker fans and a player who ended up proving that he was much more than a viral phenomenon in networks and a kind of mascot of the fans. Quite the contrary: Caruso, a player with an exceptional defensive engine, he was important in the title won in 2020 and it remained an absolutely reliable piece, solid as a rock, last season.
But he did not reach any agreement with the Lakers when he had to go out on the market after years of a very accessible contract in the team that had bet on him: he did not draft in 2016, he hardened in the G League and took advantage of the opportunity when it arrived. All those that were arriving. This summer, with 27 years and con public debates on whether the Lakers did everything they could to retain him, Caruso signed the contract of his life with the Chicago Bulls: four years, 37 million dollars.
The Lakers fans lost one of their favorites, one of their own. But curiously, that preseason of disappointments, doubts and injuries, has given the laker nation a new favorite, another underdog to pamper and, let’s agree, with whom to give the turra in social networks: Austin Reaves.
Reaves, like Caruso, is white. It is the antithesis of anything similar to a glamorous image and it is a non-drafting that stands out for its intelligence., his ability to do many things well and very little else on the track. Of course, while Caruso made a place as a defensive bulldog with a rough but constantly progressing attack game, Reaves does not have the strength of the already ex. And while he’s sticky on defense, he still doesn’t have the elite level that Caruso did. Instead, comes to the NBA with much more offensive instinct, a better outside shot and more ability to make things happen from his dribbling.
Again, it’s the little things for Reaves (and young players in general) that makes you intrigued.
Here he receives the skip pass from LeBron and immediately notices the strong position Dwight has (physically) carved out. The whip pass is right on the money. pic.twitter.com/6r2jYEOJUf
– Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) October 13, 2021
If Caruso was the Calva Mamba, Reaves bears the nickname associated with Kobe Bryant as standard: Hillbilly Kobe, the redneck Kobe, that of the rural moors. He grew up on a lost Arkansas farmAnd when he got to the University of Oklahoma, after spending two years at Wichita State, an assistant coach told him he had a nickname for him: HBK, Hillbilly Kobe. Things suited him like a glove: he already had adoration for the legendary 24 (previously 8) of the Lakers for an unconventional reason: her grandmother was a fan of the escort and spent the day watching games with her. Sports lovers, especially basketball, still texts her before every game, and Reaves says they are full of good advice because she, her grandmother, has a privileged mind for basketball.
He too. After sweeping the high schools in his area (not in front of a bright competition) he went to Wichita State, went through hell with injuries to both shoulders and after a good second season he requested the transfer to Oklahoma and spent a year in white (NCAA standards) and enhancing his still very fragile muscles: he gained almost 10 kilos. In Oklahoma he made noise, 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists in his final season for a guard combo of 1.96. With good shooting, good handling, intelligence, defensive effort, excellent rebounding instinct … condemned to the tail of the second round of the draft, he chose not to be chosen to have his hands free in managing his future. And it was right: Lakers gave him a two-way contract. In the Summer Leagues he played well and on the campus that LeBron organized in Las Vegas, to get the Lakers going 2021-22, he impressed everyone and got the Angelenos to convert his contract into an NBA standard. For this season and with a team option of 1.4 million for the next.
In preseason has met minutes from the plague of injuries in the Lakers guard / forward rotation (Nunn, Monk, Ellington, Arizona…). And it has fulfilled with a very high note: 7.5 points, almost 35% in triples and above all IQ, ability to contribute in many small things, excellent reading, few errors. The best way to convince LeBron James, who has already embraced him as one of his own: “I saw a lot of videos of him when he signed with us and I already saw that he could be an NBA player from the beginning. He has the size, the pick and roll game, the shot, the pass, the IQ… there is a lot of dog in him, he fits very well with us ”. Frank Vogel says he has played “exceptionally well”, Anthony Davis acknowledged being “impressed” and Rajon Rondo is not separated from him. “I ask him questions every five minutes,” says Reaves. And the veteran, delighted: “He’s like a sponge, he plays the way he should. He has already taken many blows but he is not afraid ”.
Reaves has suddenly found himself in quintets with LeBron, Davis, Westbrook and Carmelo. And has responded, with less nerves and more instinct than you could expect from a player of, yes, already 23 years old. One that can surprise many and earn minutes in the Lakers rotation. Even when the injured return. The team needed good news, the fans needed a new Caruso. And Reaves is the first, without a doubt, and has something of the second, it is impossible to deny it. Although it is less decisive in defense and somewhat finer in attack. Hillbilly Kobe.