From undrafted to game winner, Austin Reaves continues to defy the odds and his teammates love him for it

If you want to see an example of like coming at you fast, look no further than Lakers rookie Austin Reaves.

Reaves was not heavily recruited out of high school, redshirted in college, and went undrafted this summer.

But in a blink of an eye Reaves is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers alongside LeBron James and Russell Westbrook(his best friend on the team).

Fast forward to Wednesday night and Reaves life reached another level as he sunk the game winning 3 in overtime to lift the Lakers over the Dallas Mavericks.

Or in the words of Trevor Ariza, Reaves woke up a white boy and went to sleep a light skin.

On Wednesday, Reaves played a career-high 32 minutes, scored a career-high 15 points, grabbed a career-high seven rebounds, fully solidifying his spot in the Lakers rotation.

“I mean, it’s basically been the story of my life,” Reaves said of the moment.

“I’ve always been underrated,” he continued. “Didn’t go to a big high school, so didn’t get recruited much, but at the end of the day, you got to produce on the basketball court, and for me to hit that shot, for my teammates to have the trust in me to take that shot is very, very special.”

Reaves’ game-winner capped the craziness of the preceding 48 hours, in which three Lakers players — Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard and Malik Monk — and one assistant coach (Phil Handy), among other traveling staff members, entered the league’s health and safety protocols. The Lakers were also without assistant coach David Fizdale, who was not with the team for personal reasons.

The Lakers needed someone to step up and Reaves answered the call. He helped spark the Lakers offense throughout the game and it highlights how important his shooting will be for the Lakers offense to unlock the chains.

Spacing and wing defenders are needed around the Lakers Big 3, especially with Anthony Davis uncharacteristic lack luster shooting this season.

On the final play, Westbrook, gaining an advantage on the closeout, drove into the Mavericks’ defense, drawing four defenders, and kicked the ball out to an open Reaves on the left wing. Without hesitation — something that has held Reaves back at times — he fired up the 3. Bang. (Mike Breen was appropriately on the call.)

“Big-time shot,” Davis said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. It shows right there. … Great pass by Russ; great shot by Austin. Didn’t even hit the net.”

As the buzzer sounded, the Lakers’ bench cleared, with James, Davis and Westbrook among the first to grab and jump on Reaves, congratulating the rookie for officially arriving on the NBA scene by hitting a game-winning shot in a nationally televised game.

“I told him after the game it was a hell of a shot, but it really was about the whole game that he played,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He played great defense, he made extra passes, he competed and obviously knocked down big shots when the ball was swung to him. Great way to see him get the W.”

“You don’t see that much,” Reaves said, “especially with the type of guys that we have on this team — six Hall of Famers and then all the guys that have been in the league for 10-12 years. So, really just the genuineness of it is just special. I’m lost for words. I mean, I’ve grown up watching all of these guys play so … for me to even just be teammates with them is special.”

The bond between Westbrook and Reaves has been building since the preseason. After Reaves’ 1-of-8 3-point shooting performance in the preseason finale in Sacramento, Westbrook complimented Reaves’ insistence on continuing to shoot despite missing so many shots. That reassurance meant a lot to the rookie.

Westbrook, who spent the first 11 years of his NBA career in Oklahoma City, said he observed Reaves from a distance at the University of Oklahoma.

“Austin is a helluva shooter, as you guys saw tonight,” Westbrook said. “And from Day 1 I always just told him, ‘Stay positive.’ Like, you can’t react when you miss and make shots. Everybody is not going to make every single shot every single night. That’s part of the game.

“As long as you keep putting in the work and the time, when it counts, you’re going to make big shots. Tonight was one of those nights. I’m just happy to be able to enjoy that moment with him.”

Earlier in crunch time, Reaves messed up a defensive assignment and allowed a Dallas shooter to get off a clean look. James was heated and lit into Reaves, letting the rookie know his disdain for the mistake.

Mistakes by rookies are going to be treated more harshly than others by the coaches and by the team leaders, the player leaders,” Vogel said. “So I think it’s a sign of his mental toughness and what his makeup is all about, and I think he’s responded in a positive way.”

Reaves isn’t just an undrafted rookie. He’s an undrafted rookie in Los Angeles. He’s an undrafted rookie on the Lakers. He’s an undrafted rookie on a team with multiple future first-ballot Hall of Famers.

His ability but more so his temperament and mentality will be the reason he continues to defy the odds that have been stacked against him.

If Reaves keeps this level of play up he may slide right into the fan favorite vacancy left by Alex Caruso.

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