Austin Reaves for Most Improved Player 2023-24? How FIBA World Cup run can push Lakers guard toward stardom

Austin Reaves received superstar treatment from the fans in the Philippines at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, and his play backed up his reception.

Even though Team USA came up short of a podium finish, Reaves continued his unlikely ascension to stardom, picking up where he left off during the Lakers’ 2023 Western Conference Finals run.

He was one of Team USA’s most consistent players, averaging 13.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game while turning in hyper-efficient shooting splits of 56.6/50.0/94.9 (field goals/3-pointers/free throws).

Reaves was a reliable source of offense, finding a way to make an impact with or without the ball in his hands. Similar to his role with the Lakers, he operated as a tertiary playmaker who could score off the dribble, create open looks for his teammates and knock down open triples when called upon.

His highlights on the international stage have led to optimism around his third year with Los Angeles — a season that will start with lofty expectations after Reaves signed a four-year, $56 million deal before heading off to the FIBA World Cup.

His breakout performance at the tournament has led to an adjustment in Most Improved Player odds ahead of the 2023-24 campaign, but is the Reaves hype warranted?

MORE: Building the perfect Team USA roster for 2024 Olympics

NBA Most Improved Player odds 2023-24

The Reaves hype train has left the station, and the NBA’s Most Improved Player odds indicate that.

Reaves comes in tied for the fifth-best odds to take home the award, only trailing Nets forward Mikal Bridges, Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey and Wizards guard Jordan Poole, according to BetMGM.

Player Team Odds
Mikal Bridges Nets +650
Cade Cunningham Pistons +1200
Tyrese Maxey 76ers +1200
Jordan Poole Wizards +1400
Austin Reaves Lakers +1500
Alperen Sengun Rockets +1500

Reaves is looking to follow the Lauri Markkanen blueprint. The Jazz forward became an All-Star last season and won the 2022-23 Most Improved Player award after a stellar showing at the 2022 EuroBasket tournament.

And Reaves making the jump to Most Improved is far from inconceivable, too.

Last season with the Lakers, Reaves averaged career-highs of 13.0 points, 3.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. He shattered projections as an undrafted second-year player, and he did a great job of providing some added depth behind Los Angeles’ bigger names.

MORE: Why LeBron James’ Team USA recruiting push is no slam dunk

By the end of the season, Reaves had outgrown his role as a super-sub, and head coach Darvin Ham had no choice but to insert him into the starting lineup.

The 25-year-old really found his groove during the postseason, averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game as a key catalyst in the Lakers’ deep playoff run.

If Reaves can average those numbers — or even better — for the entire season, he’ll surely be in the mix to take home the award. His perceived competition is valid, though.

Bridges looked like a prolific No. 1 scoring option after being traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn, going from 17.2 points per game with the Suns to 26.1 points per game with the Nets.

Maxey is in line to be the 76ers’ primary perimeter creator this season because of James Harden’s trade situation.

MORE: No, the basketball world isn’t catching up to the U.S.

Poole will likely be the Wizards’ go-to scorer with the greenest of green lights after being traded from Golden State to Washington this offseason.

And then there is Cunningham, who is coming off a season-ending injury but showed plenty of flashes of stardom during his rookie season back in 2021-22.

The path to the 2023-24 Most Improved Player award appears to be a crowded one, but Reaves’ case could be one of the strongest in the field.

If the FIBA World Cup is any indication, he’s ready for another breakout season.

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