Lakers newsletter: Lakers found a secret weapon during the preseason

Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike with the final Lakers newsletter of the preseason, which means I’ll be giving it about 70% while making sure that I don’t strain a hamstring or turn an ankle.

Making judgments about the preseason is almost impossible — you have players like LeBron James flat-out saying the games don’t matter all that much. But then you also consider the last time the Lakers preseason ended without a win it was 2012 — fresh off the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard (for the first time).

And of course, that didn’t turn out well.

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Making any big judgments from the preseason is a huge mistake, a bet you’ll almost always lose. But there’s been one thing that’s become clear — the Lakers found themselves an NBA player in Austin Reaves.

Rookie Austin Reaves speaks to reporters during Lakers media day Sept. 28 in El Segundo.

(Harry How / Getty Images)

On a team full of veterans, these preseason games are mostly low-level walkthroughs, chances for some rust to be shaken off and for players to slowly work themselves back into game shape. But they’re also chances for young players to take hold of opportunities, to make the most of their minutes and to earn their place on their new team.

That’s what has been happening with the Lakers with Reaves, an undrafted rookie who has gone from two-way player to possible contributor in a matter of weeks thanks to a high offensive aptitude and plenty of fight.

“He can play at this level, play at a high level,” James said after Reaves scored 10 points Tuesday. “I watched a lot of film on him when we drafted him actually. I knew right away that he could be an NBA player and play at this level. His size. His shot-making ability. His pick-and-roll play, his passing. High IQ kid. And he’s got a lot of dog in him too. A lot of dog in him too.

“That translates to our game.”

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Wednesday’s minutes came with the other Lakers’ starters, the 23-year-old rookie looking perfectly in place on the floor of an NBA game.

“It’s crazy,” Reaves said. “There was a point in the game last night where it was me, LeBron, Russ, AD at the five and Melo. I mean I grew up watching these guys play and for them to trust me enough to look for me and give me opportunities to make plays is special to just boost my confidence even more.”

It was encouraging — even more so after James’ postgame endorsement.

There’s been some buzz about Reaves since the Lakers’ preseason minicamp in Las Vegas. Reaves earned a full-time deal after that showing. And over the course of the preseason, he’s impressed his new teammates with his smarts and his attitude.

“He’s just fearless. He plays the right way, obviously a knockdown shooter, and he’s always asking me questions,” Rajon Rondo said. “He sits on the bench, talks to Coach Phil [Handy], talks to Mike Penberthy. So obviously he’s a sponge and a student of the game, so I think that’s going to be great for his development in the future.”

And whenever someone talks about him, invariably they talk about his toughness. Rondo and Anthony Davis mentioned Wednesday how often Reaves gets hit in the face during team workouts — a sign that he’s playing with the edge that Frank Vogel wants his team to have.

“He’s got heart. He’s fearless. Almost every practice, when we scrimmage or are doing something live, he’s on the floor getting hit in the face or … something,” Davis said. “… We say he’s got to wear a helmet in practice. He works hard and I told him today during the game. With defense on Nemanja Bjelica, we got the stop, and I told him, when we came back down, I said, ‘Man, playing like that earns you minutes.’

“He has a real chance to play on our team. Especially when we got guys out, he just keep going and going, and he’ll probably be on the floor.”

That day probably is more down the road than it’s imminent. But if Reaves can become a rotational player, it’ll be a key part of roster building down the road, the Lakers with limited options after paying max money to James, Davis and Russell Westbrook.

“He’s got great instincts for the game,” Vogel said last week after Reaves scored nine points in San Francisco. “When he’s making shots like he did tonight it contributes to winning basketball. He wins possessions on both sides of the ball. Has great defensive instincts, being in the right place at the right time, likes to compete and fight and obviously he’s very versatile offensively. He can play with the ball in his hands and create and make the right reads.

“Knows how to cut, knows how to space and when he’s making shots like he did tonight he’s a hell of a player.”

Something to look for

As you watch the Lakers early in the season, one thing to keep an eye on is how fast they’re playing.

Part of fast breaking and pace is getting stops and turning it quickly into points. But a second part of that is moving quickly after allowing a score, giving the Lakers a consistent identity.

“Every time it’s going to be something that we’ve got to emphasize,” Westbrook said. “Because when we’re coming downhill — myself, Bron or even AD — it’s tough to be able to stop. We just have to make the right decision, whether it’s scoring or finding the open guy. But when we get defenses on their heels, it’s difficult to beat us or stop us.”

In case you missed it

‘It’s going to take a minute’: LeBron James on Lakers’ Big 3 jelling

Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker to undergo thumb surgery

Kent Bazemore showcasing his energy and defensive prowess for Lakers

Why Russell Westbrook isn’t worried about his abundance of turnovers

Staples Center health protocols won’t change with city vaccination ordinance

Song of the Week

Arcade Fire – Ready to Start (Live 2014)

Welcome to the regular season. Things are about to count. I’m ready to start.

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