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2 bright spots of Lakers’ season go off in wild win vs. Nuggets

malik monk austin reaves

In typical 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers style, the organization couldn’t make it five minutes before spoiling good vibes.

Literally seconds after the Lakers capped off their dismal season with a thrilling 146-141 overtime win over the Denver Nuggets, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that head coach Frank Vogel is expected to be fired on Monday. At his postgame press conference minutes later, Vogel said he hadn’t “been told shit” by the front office and was more interested in celebrating what is likely his final victory in Los Angeles.

That win was sparked by two of the rare bright spots from a dark season: Austin Reaves, 23, and Malik Monk, 24, the wings from rural Arkansas who grew up competing against one another.

Two days after Talen Horton-Tucker posted a career high of 40 points, Monk dropped a career-high 41 points of his own on 15-of-26 shooting. The man was on fire:

Reaves, meanwhile, became the fourth rookie in NBA history to put up 30+ points, 15+ rebounds, and 10+ assists in a game, joining Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Blake Griffin. Reaves finished his impressive rookie campaign with 31 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. He hit all 14 of his free throws and capped off a furious last-ditch rally with five points in the final 20 seconds: a 3, a steal, and then a coast-to-coast layup:

“I’m going to enjoy tonight’s game, celebrate what these young guys did in terms of scratching and clawing and getting back in this game and getting a W,” Vogel said.

Both Monk and Reaves expressed gratitude to their head coach for trusting them to play major roles in the rotation all season long.

“I love the man. He gave me a chance,” Monk said. “This was the only team that called me in the offseason and gave me a chance. I have nothing bad to say about him. All praise goes to him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have a chance to play basketball.”

For all the negativity surrounding the Lakers over the past eight months, Reaves and Monk proved to be among the few success stories. Reaves — an undrafted free agent who earned a standard NBA contract before training camp — began the season as a plus/minus darling and quickly became a key crunch-time fixture. His decision-making, one-on-one defense, low-key confident playmaking, and nuanced basketball IQ stood out from the jump:

Monk, perhaps the most successful minimum contract signing in the league last offseason, averaged 13.4 points on .471/.388/.784 shooting splits and led the Lakers in scoring five times.

Reaves finished with the highest net rating on the team (minimum 60 appearances). Monk was second. Both players had stretches when they were arguably the third-best player on a team full of future Hall of Famers.

Reaves opened up after the game:

Reaves is signed through next season — though he’s on track for a hearty raise in the summer of 2023. Whether the Lakers can retain Monk — who has stated his desire to stay in Los Angeles — will be one of the most important questions of the Lakers’ offseason. His encouraging development only diminished the franchise’s chances of keeping him.

Monk may be able to fetch around $10 million annually on the open market. Unless the Lakers stretch Russell Westbrook’s contract, they may not have the ability to offer Monk more than the taxpayer mid-level (about $6 million) exception. This will be a major storyline to watch in the offseason.