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How Austin Reaves went from guarding Klay Thompson to running his play

Looking at how Steve Kerr ran a Thompson set for a past nemesis.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Steve Kerr has been coaching Team USA and is currently 4-0 in exhibition games, with wins over Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Spain, and Greece.

One of Kerr’s players is the Los Angeles Lakers’ Austin Reaves, who’s been giving a pretty good account of himself so far and is proving those who doubted his place in the national team wrong.

The penchant for foul drawing last season may have turned most non-Lakers’ fans off, but Reaves is legitimately good. His rise toward becoming a high-level role player has gotten him a fresh four-year contract worth $53.8 million from the Lakers.

Reaves is the kind of player Kerr values: cerebral, calculating, and almost always makes the right decision. Which is no wonder why Kerr has him on the floor sharing ball-handling duties with the likes of Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Haliburton, two players considered to be a couple of tiers above Reaves.

If you want an example of how much Kerr features Reaves on Team USA, look no further than Kerr using a play he normally runs for Klay Thompson and having Reaves play the role of Thompson in that said play.

Here’s an instance of Kerr running the set in Game 2 of last season’s playoffs series between the Warriors and the Lakers, with Reaves guarding Thompson:

(Note how Kerr uses “Klay” as the playcall for this set, a testament to how this set mostly belongs to Thompson and was crafted specifically for him.)

Thompson runs off of a screen (called an “out” screen) set by Draymond Green for him to receive the ball on the right wing, after which Green comes over to set a ballscreen with the the other three players spreading the floor (“Angle” pick-and-roll or spread pick-and-roll).

Reaves gets caught in Green’s screen, with Anthony Davis in drop and forced to step up toward Thompson. But Thompson is given all the space he needs to pull-up comfortably for the three.

Fast forward around three months later, Reaves finds himself not only playing for Kerr and not having to guard Thompson — he is tasked with playing Thompson’s role in the “Klay” play:

It’s Reaves getting the “out” screen above, but since the coverage on him (big stepping up to the level of the screen)is different compared to Thompson in the previous clip (Davis in “high” drop), Reaves opts to kick the ball to the corner with the low man “tagging” on Walker Kessler’s roll.

After giving up the ball, Reaves relocates to the right wing and patiently waits for the ball to return to him. Against a titled Greek defense in rotation, Reaves drills the three.

Same play, same result. But different ways of getting to it, dictated by how the defense opted to defend the ballscreen.

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