Heading into this summer’s FIBA World Cup, hopes were high that Team USA was about to reclaim the gold medal it has always felt entitled to. It had finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup and seemed to have a very solid roster full of young and hungry players.
One of those young and hungry players is Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, who blossomed into a stud this past NBA season. He played very well throughout the summer, and most expected the Americans to handle Germany in its semifinal contest on Friday and advance to the gold medal contest.
Reaves played very well on Friday with 21 efficient points, 11 of them coming down the stretch of the fourth quarter. But that production wasn’t enough, as Germany stunned Team USA, 113-111.
Reaves’ former teammate Dennis Schroder hit the decisive shot with less than a minute left over him, and it highlighted a potential concern regarding him that was on display at times during the tournament.
Reaves has become a very good all-around player. He can hit from the outside, drive to the hoop and finish, handle the ball and facilitate, both on the fast break and in the set offense, and draw fouls and convert free throws at a high clip.
He isn’t exactly a bad defender — according to Cleaning The Glass, the Lakers’ lineups that included Reaves this past season were in the 72nd percentile in defensive rating. In fact, the lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Reaves, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Davis, which was usually their starting unit down the stretch, was in the 87th percentile in that category.
However, when the Americans lost to Lithuania, Lithuania looked to post Reaves up, and he wasn’t able to deal with that strategy, as it led to him getting into foul trouble.
Lithuania going right at Austin Reaves here. Posting him up off this UCLA action
With Valanciunas on the bench, they have enough floor spacing in their frontcourt to invert the offense like this. Really smart move on their part pic.twitter.com/D7tzmH3bh4
— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) September 3, 2023
In addition, Lithuania was able to pressure Reaves on the offensive end by putting length and size on him.
Austin Reaves vs Lithuania:
AR always competes defensively; even when outsized & outmatched.
But vs LIT, AR (AND the rest of Team USA) had a tough time handling LIT’s deadly combo of Length + Strength + Skill + Shooting.
On both ends.
AR is typically the bigger guard, but… pic.twitter.com/JezL1BqF4W
— Lakers Legacy (@LakersLegacyPod) September 4, 2023
During the 2022-23 season, Reaves played 48 percent of his minutes at the 3 according to Basketball Reference, and given the fact that he’s 6-foot-5 and no more than roughly 205 pounds, doing so is asking for trouble.
The Lakers could be in a bit of trouble should other teams catch on and force him to switch on to bigger wings who can either post him up or take him off the dribble into the paint.
The good news? Los Angeles was a very good defensive team after its life-saving midseason trades, and it ranked fourth in defensive rating in its 23 games after the All-Star break.
But this potential big crack in Reaves’ armor is something that head coach Darvin Ham will need to find a remedy for before the real games start this fall.