This was never a problem for Anthony Davis.
Opportunity was always there, a former No. 1 overall pick selected to be the face of a franchise, a superstar-in-training since the day he entered the NBA. The role was always clear — the questions were few.
For Cam Reddish, the 10th pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the situation was different.
Yeah, the Atlanta Hawks had invested a lottery pick in the talented, multi-positional prospect from Duke, but the path was a little murkier. By the next season, he was traded to the New York Knicks and a year after that he was dealt again, this time to Portland.
And then, this past summer, Reddish signed a deal with the Lakers as a veteran’s minimum free agent.
“At the end of the day,” Davis said Wednesday, “it's all about opportunity.”
With Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura and Gabe Vincent all already ruled out, Reddish got pushed into the starting five. By the end of the game, Reddish had shown the kind of on-ball defense that has the team hopeful it can resurrect the 6-foot-8 wing’s career.
“I told him on the bench, no matter if you're 40 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever, you've got to have this effect on the game,” Davis said. “He came out defensively getting steals, great contests even though they're going to make shots. Playing well offensively and attacking the basket.”
It was a proud moment for the Lakers veterans, the team’s leaders becoming stakeholders in the development of young players on the roster like Reddish. Two years ago, LeBron James and Davis saw Malik Monk reclaim a place in the league. And this year, the two are hopeful former lottery picks like Reddish and Jaxson Hayes can harness their talent.
“I love being a part of the turnaround or whatever the case may be. Just being around guys to make them feel like, first of all, they belong. Because they do. I mean, they're pros for a reason,” James said after Wednesday's game. “But we make sure that they feel that. They’re wanted. And we wanted those guys. We wanted Jax. We wanted Cam. And it doesn’t matter about the shot making or things of that nature.
“I think everybody gets caught up in how many points you have and the end of the game or whatever the case may be. If you are a student of the game and you watch tonight's game, you saw the impact that Jaxson, Cam made in the game. If you're not a student of the game, then you're probably going to be on Twitter and talking about, ‘Cam only had 8 points and Jax only had 3 points, so we shouldn't worry about those guys.’ They were big time for us and we don't win the game without them. That's for sure tonight.”
Those chances are going to keep coming.
Vanderbilt’s recovering from a heel injury, but as of Wednesday, he had yet to progress beyond stationary work on the court. Hachimura is in concussion protocol and Vincent will miss at least the next two weeks with knee swelling.
The path to stardom for Reddish and Hayes is still unclear. But the path to winning on a team with Davis and James, that’s easier to see, with the two showing it by prioritizing defense and playing with energy.
“Obviously, we know how talented [Reddish] was coming out of Duke. But same with Jaxson in New Orleans. It wasn't time. We get them over here and now they have opportunities to go out and be effective and help us get wins,” Davis said. “And now they got to stay confident and be ready to play. It's always a next-man-up mentality and you never know when your number is going to be called. And I think that's what Rob was able to do ... go get depth just for that purpose. And it showed tonight. Especially with Cam. It's all about opportunity and now that we know what Cam brings to our team — which we already knew, but now he's shown it — we're going to expect that from him no matter… how many minutes he's playing. He's got to bring that same intensity every night. Same with Jaxson.
“And the thing is that they have to understand too that it's a long season, obviously still trying to figure out rotations, but no matter how many minutes you play, you have to come in and be ready to make an impact on the game. And both of them did that tonight.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.