After going undrafted in 2021, Austin Reaves agreed to a two-way contract on draft night with the Lakers, played well enough to be converted to a standard NBA contract after training camp, and has since earned a larger role this season to position himself for a pay raise in free agency this summer.
In his first 29 games before suffering a right ankle sprain, Reaves averaged 10.8 points on 52.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.1 percent from downtown. Shortly after, Reaves suffered a strained hamstring and has been out of the lineup since Jan. 4.
With the Lakers in town for a back-to-back set with the Nets and Knicks, Reaves discussed lessons he learned from LeBron James, Alex Caruso comparisons, his upcoming free agency, and more with HoopsHype.
What went through your mind going undrafted on the journey to make your NBA dream a reality?
Austin Reaves: I was pissed, to be honest. Obviously, I didn’t feel like there were 60 better players, but the draft’s not all about talent at that moment. It’s about potential and stuff like that, probably after 25 (pick). I wasn’t happy, but I knew I was going to have an opportunity, and that was all it was going to take, someone giving me an opportunity to go prove myself.
After that, the Lakers and Frank Vogel gave you that opportunity on the two-way and then getting that Lakers contract. What went through your mind during that process?
AR: I thought it was crazy, especially with the team we had last year. We had arguably six or seven Hall of Famers on that team who had been in the league for over 10 years. It was a great experience. Coach Vogel was the first guy to really give me an opportunity. I have much love and respect for him because there were multiple times early in the year when he didn’t have to go with me and give me an opportunity because of the personnel we had on the team, but he thought it was best for the team and it worked out for me. A lot of praise for him. The whole year wasn’t the year we wanted to have, but for me getting that year and learning how the NBA works were big.
What lessons have you learned from LeBron James that stick with you?
AR: Be yourself, and don’t try to be anyone else. Everybody gets to this level for some reason. You’re obviously really good at basketball, but you’re really good at certain things. Not everyone is going to be a star, and you’ve got to realize that when you get to this level and figure out where you can fit in and what you can do to help the team be successful. That was the main thing. Be yourself and enjoy it.
How many guys tried to talk trash to you as an undrafted guy?
AR: Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I get it every now and then. One thing about me is I’m not going to back down. I like competitive nature and people that go at me because I feel like I can hold my own and respond to that challenge. I don’t talk much. You’ve got to say something to me before I say anything, and usually it’s on the defensive end. I don’t talk that much on offense.
What are the biggest reasons you think you’ve improved this season and a larger role?
AR: I think it’s that extra year of experience. You can talk about the 82-game season, but once you go through it — and I had some injuries and DNPs — until you go through the travel and all that, you get more comfortable. When you get comfortable, the better you’ll play.
Now that you’ve established yourself as an NBA player, what goals do you have for yourself looking ahead?
AR: Win, honestly. That’s all I care about. I think when you’re winning as a team, everyone looks good on the team, regardless if you’re averaging 25 or 10 points. If you’re winning, you’re doing something right. It’s all about winning for me. On top of that, I want to get better every year and don’t get complacent about where I’m at skill-wise or even IQ-wise. You can always learn. I’ve got arguably the best IQ guy (LeBron James) to ever play the game, so I’ve learned from him.
It’s also a big contract year for you. What have you thought about your future?
AR: I don’t really think that far ahead. I’m just trying to win games. I love being in Los Angeles, and I love being a Laker. Kobe Bryant was my favorite player growing up, so getting an opportunity to play for the Lakers is a big blessing.
More: Austin Reaves ranks 30th overall in our HoopsHype free agent rankings
On Twitter, people will mention you with Alex Caruso. What do you think of that?
AR: Totally different players, but we’re guys that played on the Lakers, and we’re white. We don’t really look athletic. He’s athletic, but I’m not that athletic. I can see why people do it, but we’re two totally different players.
You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter.
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