Brock Purdy’s ascent from last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft to entrenched starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has few parallels in sports — except maybe in the NBA, where Austin Reaves has undergone a similar rise over the past two seasons from undrafted to perhaps the most important player on the Los Angeles Lakers not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis.
Skip Bayless made the comparison between Purdy and Reaves on Thursday’s episode of “Undisputed” alongside his new co-star, three-time NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson, and guest longtime NBA analyst Rachael Nichols.
“I’ve never seen anything like the [difference between] Austin Reaves in college and what he turned into in pro basketball,” Bayless said. “It’s like [Purdy], where I watched him a lot at Iowa State and saw none of this that I saw last year in San Francisco. … Austin Reaves at Oklahoma, I watched a majority of his games because I am a Sooner fan. He shot 28% from the college three-point line … Nobody drafted him.
“Then he came out here, and I said, ‘Austin Reaves is on this Lakers squad?’”
But in watching Reaves’ rapid rise last season and into the Lakers’ unlikely playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, Bayless sees similarities between the combo guard and another big-name NFL quarterback.
“All of a sudden, that first year he shoots 32% from three and then last year he shot 40% from three,” Bayless continued. “It’s Jalen Hurts-like where all of a sudden, you transform yourself at the highest level.”
“LeBron loves this kid (Reaves) because he knows how to play basketball,” Bayless added. “He almost always makes the correct play, and LeBron — who still has the highest IQ in all of basketball — feeds off that because he can trust it.
“Then all of a sudden, Austin Reaves down the stretch through the playoffs started to be the closer for this team because when they needed a big bucket, he would go get it.”
Johnson, a Los Angeles native and former USC football standout who has followed the Lakers closely both as a fan and as a local sports radio host, pointed out that the team — and its top superstar — understand Reaves’ importance to them thanks to the four-year, $56 million deal he signed to remain with the team in restricted free agency.
“Last year, he kind of came onto the scene; LeBron James signed off on it and said, ‘I can play with this guy,’ and then all of a sudden he just continued to get better and better and better,” Johnson said. “He was very important to our success in the postseason on both ends of the floor. He had some streaky shooting, but when he got hot, the rest was history. … He’s a complementary shooter to LeBron James, and in LeBron’s career, he [has] had shooters around him.”
Johnson also expects a much-improved Lakers squad next season compared to the last one, when the Lakers struggled before a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline that included jettisoning point guard Russell Westbrook and replacing him with D’Angelo Russell, opening up Reaves to take on a bigger ball-handling role.
The Lakers re-signed Russell, Reaves and fellow playoff spark plug Rui Hachimura and picked up the team option on the Jarred Vanderbilt’s contract earlier, which means the Lakers have retained all five starters and its most important bench player (Hachimura) from last season’s postseason run.
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