The Los Angeles Lakers have rebounded from a disastrous start to claw back to .500. Over the last two games, LA has benefitted from veteran stars like Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. But two unheralded role players — Malik Monk and Austin Reaves — are proving to be big assets to the Purple and Gold.
Malik Monk and Austin Reaves took different routes to the Los Angeles Lakers
The 23-year-old Monk and Reaves have a history together. Both Arkansas natives, the two played against one another in the state championship as ninth graders. But after leaving The Natural State, their journeys to Hollywood couldn’t have been any further apart.
Beginning with Monk, the 6-foot-3 guard spent a lone season at Kentucky before being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets 11th overall in 2017. Billed as an elite scorer out of college, Monk spent four years in Charlotte trying to carve out a regular spot in the rotation. The Arkansas native averaged 9.1 points in 17.8 minutes across four seasons while netting a career-high 11.7 points per game in 2020-21.
However, the Hornets decided against issuing a $7 million qualifying offer, making Monk a free agent. Five days later, the guard signed with LA for one year and $1.79 million.
Meanwhile, Reaves has plenty of college basketball experience. The 6-foot-5 guard, who like Monk is also from Arkansas, played two years each for Wichita State and Oklahoma. Although he averaged 18.3 points his senior year in Norman, Reaves went undrafted and signed with the Lakers’ Summer League team. His performance during the Summer League helped him land a standard two-year contract, one that will pay him up to $925K this season.
With Monk a one-and-done lottery pick and Reaves an undrafted rookie, the two are united in their goal to help improve the Lakers. And so far, the two are going above and beyond to do just that.
Reaves and Monk have been breaths of fresh air
The Arkansas boys have been the beneficiaries of a slew of Laker injuries. Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and Wayne Ellington have all yet to debut for LA, allowing Monk and Reaves more time to shine.
Reaves was previously projected to be warming the bench the entire season. But the 6-5 guard checked in on Friday against the Phoenix Suns and has seen his role increase ever since. The former Sooner has gone from 12 to 18 to a season-high 30 minutes in Tuesday’s win against the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 7.3 points on 66.7% shooting. Head coach Frank Vogel is even deploying him down the stretch in close games.
“Austin, just [a] tough rookie,” Davis told The Athletic after the game. “Any rookie can get scared of the moment. … So he’s definitely a guy we can use throughout the season.”
Meanwhile, after hovering around 20 minutes a game, Monk got a chance to start for the injured LeBron James on Tuesday. From there, the fifth-year guard scored a season-high 17 points in 39 minutes. For the year, Monk is averaging 10.5 points on 43.8% shooting from the field and 42.9% from three. But most impressively, he finished the Spurs game at +31, a game LA won by four points.
“I mean s***, Malik, plus-31,” Davis added. “Ridiculous. He came in, started, and played well. Big time threes. He played great defensively.”
Malik Monk and Austin Reaves have earned their spots in the Lakers’ rotation
The 23-year-olds, who together will cost LA up to $2.7 million this season, have benefitted from several players ahead of them on the depth chart suffering injuries. But at this rate, once the Lakers get healthier, it will be hard to take away playing time from either.
Both Monk and Reaves have been exceptional from beyond the arc, hitting 45.0% of their eight combined attempts per game. They’ve also been solid defensively, evident by both earning 30+ minutes against San Antonio and being on the court in contested fourth quarters. If Vogel already has that type of trust in them, it bodes well for their places in the rotation.
Once the team is at full strength, who will they replace? It likely won’t be Horton-Tucker and Nunn, two other young guards previously slotted ahead of Monk and Reaves on the depth chart. They’re also both far more expensive, earning $9.5 million and $5 million this season alone, respectively. Each will get their minutes after returning from injury, which leaves veteran guards Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo most in danger of taking a backseat.
Either way, even for a star-studded team, quality of depth is important. Thanks to the former first-rounder Monk and the undrafted rookie Reaves, the Lakers’ depth looks as solid as ever.