Austin Reaves and a limited Anthony Davis were defensive dynamite for the Lakers. Now, Reaves wants to play with a healthy AD.
Austin Reaves played 1418 minutes for the Lakers last season, but he seems to have had a particular fondness for 273 of them. Those are the minutes that Reaves shared the court with Anthony Davis, and the sophomore guard is looking forward to many more of those in 2022-23.
In an interview with Jake Fischer on the Callin app, Reaves expressed his excitement about playing with a healthy Anthony Davis, specifically because of what AD brings defensively that the Lakers were lacking a year ago:
“Health is the main key for him, and like you said, when he’s healthy he’s a problem, to say the least. He is super active defensively. So that’s what I can’t wait for is his defensive presence, I mean because you can play defense a lot different. Cuz last year we played a lot of small ball with Bron at 5, and like, as great as Bron is, like he’s not, he’s a great transition shot blocker, but AD’s shot blocking presence off of drives or pre-drives when he’s guarding the dunker is insane. So you can guard the ball differently, you can put more pressure on the ball, be more aggressive knowing that you got AD ready to come over and block a shot, so that’s what I’m most ready for.”
Even when AD wasn’t at his healthiest in 2021-22, he and Reaves still formed a fearsome defensive duo. Of the 17 Lakers who took the court for at least 100 minutes last season, no two had a better defensive on-off than Davis and Reaves, per Cleaning the Glass. The Lakers allowed 3.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Reaves played and 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Davis played. The Lakers had a defensive rating of 114.3 last year, 24th in the NBA; lineups with both Davis and Reaves were at 102.9, miles better than the league-leading Boston Celtics (106.9).
As Reaves said, Davis cleans up a lot of messes at the rim, allowing the Lakers guards to play more aggressively. Reaves wasn’t able to gamble much for steals last year without a solid defensive center in the paint, meaning he had to body up a lot of drivers who had some heft on him. Even as Reaves gets stronger heading into his second season, it still behooves him and the Lakers to have more options in containment, which Davis provides.
If a limited Davis was able to impact the Lakers’ defense to that degree, it’s pretty clear why Reaves is so excited to play with a healthy version. A healthy AD is one who hit one of the more memorable shots in franchise history, who can be the key to Darvin Ham’s vision in Los Angeles, and Reaves eagerly awaits being that guy’s teammate:
“He’s one of the best players in the league when he’s healthy, as he’s shown in years past, especially the year that they won in 2020, the pandemic year, the bubble year. He was a different, different human, like he was out there doing everything, so I can’t wait to see it in person. Just unfortunately last year, he wasn’t healthy enough to do it. But I’ve seen him in the gym a lot in the last couple of weeks every day, he’s putting in work. I can’t wait for that to get going.”
There are plenty of concerns to have about this Lakers roster, but this duo is reason enough for optimism.