Austin Reaves celebrates

On Being Him: Austin Reaves Always Wants the Big Shot

Austin Reaves doesn’t have time to think about uncertainty, he’s too busy being a pro.

If you work hard enough, you’re going to reach the point where you’ve shown everyone why you deserve to be here; Austin Reaves, “Him,” he knows this place.  

It doesn’t feel like it was eight months ago that the Lakers took down the Grizzlies in Game 1, Round 1 of the 2022-23 Playoffs and Reaves was declaring to basketball and all its spectators that he’s HIM.  

The image of Reaves weaving through the lane and tossing up a fadeaway on his way to nine consecutive points in the fourth quarter feels like it just happened. Probably because of what occurred after, Reaves pounding his chest and screaming “I’M HIM,” lives rent-free in everyone's head.  

There was another point in this fourth quarter when Austin chucked up a triple, he was perfect offensively in this final frame against Memphis, five-for-five from the field and two-for-two deep, as the ball dropped through the net and Austin retreated back on defense, he yelled and flexed.  

This fourth quarter was the point where Austin showed everyone why he deserved to be here.  

It’s right at this point when uncertainty is signaled, and it starts creeping in, trying relentlessly to knock you off the top; to send you falling back down all that way you just climbed. That’s the thing no one tells you about reaching the top, you don’t get to rest there. If you want to be great, if you’re “him,” you don’t ever get to rest.  

It’s Austin’s third year in the NBA, his third year being a Laker. There are billboards of Reaves all across Southern California. He got himself a massive shoe deal, and a charismatic-as-hell appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.  

This past summer, after finishing the season in June, Reaves was a part of Team USA and played in the FIBA World Cup into September. He had a notable performance in the tournament and averaged 13.8 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.  

Shortly after returning from the Philippines, Reaves rejoined the Purple and Gold and got set for training camp and the season quickly approaching. When the season began, No. 15 started off slower offensively than the past two seasons. He was shooting 10% under his career average. People were quick to question if Austin was actually “Him.” And if he was, where he went?   

“What I've seen is someone who had a long playoff run and played a lot of basketball over the summer,” LeBron James said in defense of Reaves. “So, it's going to take a little bit for him to get his legs back, but the competitiveness and what he brings to our team goes without question so we can care less if he's not making shots because he does so many other things out on the floor as well. ...He's still a big-time player for us. He's one of our key guys that we need to play well, even if he doesn't make shots. And that's what makes him really good because he doesn't need to make shots to be effective.” 

But after the Lakers lost to the Magic on November 4th, and Austin put up 20 points, he used the moment to address the topic of his shooting, “Shout out to the people defending me for missing shots, saying I’m tired, but I’m not. I feel good.”   

You’ll realize at the top how that thing you loved is different now, it’s your craft. You know how everyone warns you not to make your hobbies your work? Because when you’re a professional, you can’t expect inspiration to just strike anymore, sometimes you’ve got to conjure it. That’s what separates the pros from everyone else.  

“It felt really good to see a shot go in,” Austin said after he and the Lakers snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Clippers in an overtime win on November 1st. “I made my first one then missed like six in a row. And shout out to DLo (D’Angelo Russell) for constantly being in my ear this whole time. Like, ‘forget all of it. You're a really good basketball player. Don't let that slip. You go do what you're supposed to do.’ And like I've said, you go through stretches like this and have to fight your way out and you know, that's what I'm doing.”  

In that game against the Clippers, Reaves stayed unflappable despite six consecutive shots not dropping. He focused on the other parts of the game, one of those parts being tossing up a perfect lob to LeBron with two minutes left in overtime. He said how when he got the ball off a steal and started moving in transition, he didn’t think for one second he was going to shoot it, “I seen him and I knew I was gonna pass it the whole way,” Reaves explained.  

Bron added that the sequence was a “big momentum play” and that he was happy to have received the dime from AR because “he's one of my favorite guys for sure.” 

After their game against LAC, Reaves continued to get back in his groove offensively. As mentioned above, he put up 20 points against the Magic and then 23 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists against the Miami Heat. And people started to wonder, is he back to being him? But then in their blow-out loss against Houston, Austin ended the game with seven points (to be fair everyone struggled offensively that night with the Lakers scoring only 94 points).  

The next game against Phoenix Austin was out of the starting lineup. Head Coach Darvin Ham called the move a “realignment” rather than a demotion. The two had a conversation about the lineup change when the team arrived in Phoenix and exchanged "good dialogue," as Austin put it. But the realignment still stung.

“You know for me, I’m a competitor. You truthfully don’t want to have that conversation,” Austin said after the team pulled out their first In-Season Tournament win over Phoenix. “Would love to not have had that, would love to have been playing better to not have those conversations, and [be] winning as a team. My parents taught me at a young age that the coach is the coach, his decision, regardless of if you agree with it or don’t agree with it, you respect that decision. That’s what I did.” 

The Lakers carried on and won 8 of their next 11 games, they went undefeated in the group stage of the In-Season Tournament. In seven of those 11 games, Austin finished positive in plus/minus. He had 12 rebounds in one game, 11 in another, 10 dimes, and three steals. Even though it stung, he didn’t lose his head, his ego didn’t consume him, that uncertainty was knocking at his door and Reaves stayed centered like he always does, and he focused on the basketball—every part.  

And when the IST Quarterfinals came around this past Tuesday, December 5th, Reaves put the chatter from the beginning of the season to rest. He slammed the door on uncertainty.  

There were 22.2 seconds left in the game against the Suns, it was 102-101, Los Angeles, after Phoenix cut the first-half deficit and scored 14 third-quarter points out of the gate. Anthony Davis (27 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks) had the ball and looked to give it to James—who had already scored or assisted in his team’s first 19 points of the quarter —but James pointed to Austin. Reaves got the ball, took a few dribbles, went between the legs, stepped back, and put up the triple—dagger. He faced the crowd, squeezed his hands tightly and flexed, and released a yell so loud that it made everyone want to do the same...just like he had in Memphis last April.  

The Lake Show took the game 106-103 over Phoenix and cashed their ticket to the IST Semifinals in Las Vegas.  

After the game, when asked why they decided to give Austin the ball with the game on the line, LeBron and AD didn’t think the question warranted much of an explanation, “He’s done it,” LeBron said. “It’s Austin,” AD answered.  

He’s him.