The Los Angeles Lakers have felt the sting of losing Alex Caruso all season, but the silver lining is that it has helped enable the rise of Austin Reaves. The two have quite a bit in common as players. Both went undrafted out of college. Both landed with the Lakers. Both thrived as a player alongside more famous teammates. Caruso was renowned as a plus-minus superstar in Los Angeles, and thus far this season, Reaves has the best net rating on the Lakers at plus-8.2.
But Caruso sees one difference between the two. In an interview with HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky, he revealed that Reaves is more advanced at this point in his career than he was. “He’s a lot farther along than I was during my first year in the league,” Caruso said. “I think we have the same mindset of getting better and working hard. Hopefully, he can stick around.”
Based on the trajectories of their careers, Caruso is right. He spent a full season with the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue after going undrafted, and then he needed two years as a two-way player before catching on with the Lakers. Reaves was in the rotation for Los Angeles in his first month as a professional.
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That said, the two are hardly identical players. Reaves is the superior shooter. Caruso was a better defender from the get-go. Reaves still needs to add some bulk on that front, and Caruso has made strides as a shooter and playmaker since becoming a steady rotation player. The core comparison fits regardless. Reaves and Caruso are both players that benefit from the presence of superior teammates. They are high-IQ players with skill sets that complement superstars, and that helped both break out as members of the Lakers.
Caruso is an NBA champion. He’s making a strong case for All-Defense honors this season. For Reaves to be further along at this point than he was should give Laker fans plenty of optimism about his future.