With training camp on the horizon, the Lakers are looking to build on a successful 2022-23 season that saw them make a run to the Conference Finals by taking the next step forward as a contender for the championship. And after an offseason that offered both continuity and brought reinforcements to the core of their roster, the team is well positioned to do just that.
In part one of the 2023-24 training camp preview, here is a look at the guards and wings, with a closer examination of potential camp battles and x-factors from this positional group.
Max Christie, SG: Coming off a rookie season of growth that saw him split time between the G-League’s South Bay Lakers and the main roster, Christie displayed the strides he’s made over the past 12 months with a fantastic showing over the summer in the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League. Christie will look to build on these performances and fight for a spot in the rotation in his sophomore campaign.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, PG: After being selected with the 17th pick in the June draft, Hood-Schifino flashed his skills as a scorer, playmaker, and passer in Summer League. Looking at a deep group of established guards and wings in front of him in the projected rotation, Hood-Schifino comes into his first NBA training camp with an eye on learning as much as he can from a veteran roster in preparation for his rookie season.
Maxwell Lewis, SF: After being selected with the 40th pick in the June draft and acquired by the Lakers in a four-team trade, Lewis, much like his fellow rookie Hood-Schifino, enters training camp looking to absorb as much knowledge as he can from a deep group of veteran perimeter players in front him.
Taurean Prince, SF: Entering his first season with the Lakers, but his 8th in the NBA overall, Prince is an established pro who brings shooting, toughness, and defense with him from Minnesota.
Austin Reaves, G: Coming off a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him become an integral starter in the team’s playoff run, Reaves continued to flash his all-around game with an excellent showing for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup this summer. He will look to make a similar leap in his third season.
Cam Reddish, G/F: After a midseason trade sent him from the Knicks to the Trail Blazers last season, Reddish had one of the more productive stretches of his career averaging 11.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 20 appearances in Portland. Reddish will try to build on that stretch and compete for a rotation spot in his first Lakers camp.
D’Angelo Russell, G: After the mid-season trade that brought him back to the team that originally drafted him, Russell became an immediate impact player whose shooting and passing ability catapulted him to the top of the Lakers’ net rating leaders (+12.2 after the trade deadline). He returns as the incumbent starter next to Reaves looking to build on last season’s playoff run.
Gabe Vincent, PG: After helping to lead the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, Vincent heads west to Los Angeles hoping to get to the mountain top with the Lakers. Vincent, like Prince, brings shooting, toughness, and defense to the perimeter, but also offers ball handling and shot creation from the guard spot.
POTENTIAL CAMP BATTLE
There will be strong competition up and down the roster for minutes and key rotation spots, but one area to focus on is at backup shooting guard. While Austin Reaves is slotted in as the starter, his primary backup is a spot where both Christie and Reddish can compete for minutes and a rotation role.
Christie took positive steps forward over this offseason and was the go-to option for the summer league team in both Sacramento and Las Vegas. In the Lakers’ three Las Vegas games, Christie averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while hitting 50% of his shots from behind the arc and not missing a single free throw on 6.3 attempts per game. This production came while also taking on the toughest perimeter defensive assignments and tallying 2.3 blocks a night, many coming on the ball as he enveloped his assignment with sturdy defensive technique.
Laker Film Room: Max Christie Levels Up
As for Reddish, while his consistency of production has gone up and down over the course of his young career, he’s shown flashes as a two-way contributor that can help on both sides of the ball. His combination of physical tools and athleticism can translate to positive defensive contributions while his ball handling and explosiveness have shown him capable of getting to and finishing at the rim with both power and craft. Whether he can consistently channel these tools in a new environment is an open question, but one that if he answers in the affirmative will allow him to compete for minutes.
As the incumbent who has a year of experience in Coach Ham’s system and has a natural fit as a 3-and-D wing, Christie should come into camp with confidence that he can earn the rotation spot he has said is a goal of his for this season. That said, Reddish, who has the pedigree and talent of a top college recruit and recent lottery pick, should also feel confident that after years of not finding a home, that he can seize the opportunity in front of him to earn a role.
Any number of players taking a positive step forward in their overall game or having a standout season as either a shooter or defender could qualify as an x-factor that would alter the trajectory of this upcoming Lakers campaign. But no player personifies this idea more than Austin Reaves.
Reaves has already gone from undrafted free agent who fought his way into a rotation spot as a rookie to a player who evolved from bench guard to key starter and closing lineup stalwart in his sophomore season. Outside of the return to health of both Anthony Davis and LeBron James, one of the biggest changes for the Lakers in their turnaround from sub-.500 club to playoff team was the opportunity Reaves ran with once inserted into the first and crunch time five.
Heading into his third season, then, another leap in improvement could catapult the Lakers forward once more. Reaves has already shown he can be a primary ball handler and shot creator over stretches of important games, as he did against the Grizzlies in the first round of this past season’s playoffs.
Game 1 - Austin Reaves Game Highlights 04-16-23
The potential to build on and extend those stretches into a more fulltime role, not just when flanked by LeBron and AD but when operating in lineups with only one (or none) on the floor – all while maintaining efficiency, is the type of jump that could transform this team.
Of course, even without that type of step forward, Reaves will continue to be a valuable contributor whose work as both an on and off-ball player greases the wheels for productive lineups. His understanding of how to play next to stars, and not just capitalize on the defense’s natural tendency to shift towards them, but to punish opponents in ways that force them to rethink their strategy is one of the best parts of his game and a key component to his individual and the team’s success.
But after the type of rise Reaves has made over the past two seasons, and through his summer with Team USA, nothing feels out of reach for him now. And, with every step forward he takes in his development, the Lakers can benefit exponentially.