Injuries were the story of the 2020-21 Los Angeles Lakers. After winning the championship in 2020, LA lost LeBron James and Anthony Davis for 63 combined games, leading to an early elimination against the Phoenix Suns.
So far, the Lakers’ stars are healthy and ready to put the Purple and Gold back on top. But the depth behind them is thinning by the day as more and more players go down with injuries. Times are so desperate, head coach Frank Vogel may have no choice but to rely on a deep reserve to play productive minutes.
Injuries have piled up for the Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are having a difficult preseason, to say the least. Without James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook playing together, LA has dropped its first four games by an average of 18.5 points. And, to add injury to insult, the list of hurt players is growing.
Trevor Ariza was the first big loss for LA. The 36-year-old, who was favored to start on opening night, underwent ankle surgery and will be re-evaluated in a little under eight weeks. Soon after, the Lakers lost Talen Horton-Tucker, the 20-year-old guard whom LA extended this offseason. THT suffered a torn ligament in his thumb that will require surgery, sidelining him for at least one month.
Two more Lakers are also on the injury list, albeit for less severe ailments. Kendrick Nunn is nursing a sprained ankle, while Malik Monk is battling a groin strain. Monk will miss the next week at least, leaving his availability for LA’s opener against the Golden State Warriors in doubt. Meanwhile, Nunn’s timetable is unknown.
With THT, Monk, and Nunn all on the shelf, that leaves Davis and Austin Reaves as the only 28-and-under players on the active roster. While Davis’ role is locked in, Reaves might need to be ready for more playing time.
Austin Reaves could see time for the Lakers
LA’s splashy offseason netted Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, and a unique collection of veterans young and old. But the Lakers also added Reaves, who originally would have been nothing more than roster filler.
Reaves went undrafted after averaging 18.3 points per game for Oklahoma last season. Soon after the draft, he signed a two-way contract with the Lakers and played in the Summer League. In five games, Reaves averaged 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steal in 22.2 minutes. But with solid defense and good instincts, the 6-foot-5 guard impressed the franchise enough to earn a standard NBA contract ahead of training camp.
Vogel praised Reaves after last week’s loss to the Warriors. The rookie finished with nine points and two steals in 16 minutes.
“He wins possessions on both sides of the ball,” Vogel said. “Just great defensive instincts to be in the right place at the right time, to compete and really fight and obviously he’s very versatile offensively. He can play with the ball in his hands and create and make the right reads, he knows how to cut, knows how to space, and obviously like we said, if he’s making shots like he did tonight then he’s a hell of a player.”
With four role players down, the 23-year-old Reaves could see some time as a 3-and-D player along the wing. Particularly if LA opts to go with a smaller lineup.
The Lakers are exploring their options
With a thinning depth chart, Reaves is in a position to get more playing time. But the Lakers appear to be looking for outside help, as well.
On Tuesday, LA signed Sekou Doumbouya to a two-way contract. The 20-year-old, who was taken 15th overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2019, was traded to the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets this offseason before being waived by Houston. The 6-foot-8 Doumbouya has a size advantage over Reaves but is much more limited offensively.
Additionally, veteran swingman James Ennis has taken to Twitter and asked the Lakers to sign him. The Southern California native has played for seven teams in seven seasons, most recently averaging 8.4 points for the Orlando Magic. But so far, the interest appears to be one-sided.
The Lakers’ depth was exposed last year, and right now things appear to be headed in a bad direction. With the season about to start, LA could use a player like Reaves to break out.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.