LeBron James, a 19-year NBA veteran and former No. 1 overall pick, was not the hero for the Los Angeles Lakers in their dramatic 107-104 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. Rather, it was undrafted rookie, Austin Reaves.
Reaves drilled a three-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining in OT to put the Lakers up by three. He hit 5-of-6 from downtown on the night.
Yet, despite the fact that LeBron was possibly the most-hyped rookie in NBA history and Reaves was an unheralded prospect from Arkansas, James can relate to Reaves in this way: he’s a fearless, clutch, two-way rookie with an exceptionally high basketball IQ.
“We don’t go around playing the game or doing what we do and try to get somebody’s expectations of us,” LeBron said.” We try to talk about what we need to do on the floor, and things of that nature. As a group — that’s all the matters. How we collectively carry each other, how we collectively hold each other accountable, and how we continue to celebrate each other when one has a moment. And that’s what it’s all about.”
“Extremely proud and excited for AR15,” LeBron said, referencing Reaves’ nickname.
After displaying his mature floor game at Summer League, Reaves soon had his two-way contract converted into a two-year deal by the Lakers. He quickly impressed in training camp/preseason then cracked Frank Vogel’s rotation by the second game of the season.
“Hell of a shot, but it really was about the whole game he played,” Frank Vogel said. He played defense, he made extra asses … Obviously knocked down shots when the ball was swung to him.”
Three games after returning from a multi-week hamstring injury, Reaves is not only back in the mix: he’s an integral player to the Lakers’ championship hopes. In the short term, on Wednesday, he was the hero.
Reaves dropped 15 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes in Dallas — hours after The Ringer’s Mirin Fader published a compelling profile on his work ethic and experience around the Lakers’ accomplished veterans.
“I’ve always been underrated,” Reaves said. “Didn’t go to a big high school so didn’t get recruited much. But, at the end of the day, you gotta produce on the basketball court. For me to hit that shot, for my teammates to have the trust in me to hit that shot, it’s very, very special.”