Austin Reaves

Fall 2020 Scouting Report

Basketball is a game that favors the bold and confident. Especially at the premier levels of the sport, almost every decision and action that happens on the court has a window of less than a second before it closes. A player must pick a direction and go quickly to not completely stall what the team wants to accomplish. This quality is what Austin Reaves has in spades to keep ahead of opposing teams.

At 6’5”, Reaves has the height to scan the floor fully without obstruction and then the processing speed of most NBA level floor generals to know what to do with those scans. The transfer from Wichita State University, where Reaves shot 45.1% from deep in his two seasons as a Shocker, made people take notice of his pro potential. This led to Reaves adorning a much more intense ball handling role as an Oklahoma Sooner. 

Reaves’ stint at Wichita State demonstrated his likely top characteristics as a future professional with his dynamic off-ball shooting threat. However, the 2019-20 Oklahoma season demonstrated what Reaves can offer to the shooter role that most pro shooters can rarely provide as well: legitimate playmaking with the ball in his hands. To be clear, when referring to Reaves having legitimate playmaking chops, the chops are not strictly limited to Reaves having very good passing vision and the aforementioned decisiveness to pounce on the passing chances he finds.

Reaves applies his decisiveness off the dribble as well with an affinity for pressuring and scrambling defenders with drives instantly after receiving the ball. Reaves has genuine shiftiness and wiggles with his dribbling to slickly get to spots and to not have to slow down his thought process. Mixing that trickiness off the bounce with a willingness to embrace contact in traffic, often gets Reaves going to the free-throw line after overwhelming his defender for trotting back on defense after a made layup or runner in the paint. Such assertiveness as a shooter and driver had Reaves as one of only 13 NCAA high major players in the 2019-20 season who shot over 150 threes and 150 free throw attempts. 

The combination of shooting gravity and driving gravity is reminiscent of the success Joe Harris has had in the NBA. While now widely known as an elite shooter who led the league in three-point shooting percentage in 2018-19, Joe Harris is so dangerous on offense because he can counter defenders overplaying him for his jumper by quickly attacking with drives off the catch when given a lane.

Such versatility troubles any ideas of closing out hard on Harris or Reaves beyond the arc or allowing curls to the rim for Harris or Reaves after locking and trailing around pin downs or many other preferred defensive coverages to deal with dangerous shooters. A defense that is not sure what it wants to allow is usually a defense that will give up points and that is what Reaves can cause.

As for why Reaves’ overall three-point shooting took such a big plummet from a 45.1% three-point shooter at Wichita State to 25.9% at Oklahoma, the overwhelmingly major reason can be chalked up to the requirements of a Lon Kruger offense. Since Lon Kruger donned the Oklahoma head coaching mantle in 2011, an Oklahoma offense has only been in the top 150 in the nation in team assist rate once (in 2014). In general, Lon Kruger is constantly going to demand his players to create their shots and be willing to take difficult shots in order to execute his offensive vision. Such demands are a good bit of a reason why criticism of Trae Young’s decision making and shot selection during his prolific freshman year in Norman was a bit misguided.

Only 39 of Reaves’ 137 field goal makes (or 28.5%) in the 2019-20 season were assisted by a teammate and only 22 of his 42 three-point makes (or 52.4%) were assisted. These stats do not consider the number of free throws Reaves created for himself as well as the self-created shots that did not go in. Reaves will continue to improve in his role running the major offense for the Sooners as a senior and benefit from the experience of learning counters to aid his lack of explosion and lower line-drivish shot release. However, context should rest on any concerns of Reaves not being a great shooter.

Experience in various roles also applies to the perks of Austin Reaves’ defensive prowess. While susceptible to quickness from opponents, Reaves still has value in numerous different defensive coverages due to his impressive sense of anticipation, a persistent motor, and proactive communication to keep the defense in sync. Even when caught on a ball screen, the Oklahoma wing will make a very good effort to recover back into the play and quickly close any advantage.

Most of the time, Reaves’ sense of anticipation is high enough for him to flat out predict ball handlers and the opposing offense’s next action before it begins and cut it off right away. Naturally, such a proactive style of defense can fall victim to the occasional poor gamble for a steal or movement in the wrong direction, but, to follow the thread mentioned earlier, basketball is a game that favors those with initiative and Reaves chooses right more than often enough. 

Shooting on the wing has quickly become worth its weight in gold in the pro ranks in the past few seasons. Every 6’4”+ NCAA player who can hit 40% of his threes while firing them off without hesitation will get at least a look to see if that player can fire them up for a long professional career. However, the great separator between the shooters who get dismissed as not up to snuff and the shooters who make it is the ability to bring other skills to the table on top of great shooting.

Even Matt Thomas of the Toronto Raptors forged his way into a regular rotation role in not just the 2019-20 regular season but the playoffs as well by keeping up with the demanding Raptors defensive scheming on top of his dynamic shooting dimension. One-dimensionality tends to be a flash in the pan at best at the next level but Austin Reaves is going to be able to pride himself as being one of the more multi-dimensional shooters leading into next year’s draft.