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Examining The Defense Of Mavericks Two-Way Player Josh Reaves

Writer Dakota Schmidt writes about how Penn State alum and current Mavericks two-way player Josh Reaves performs on the defensive end.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks-Media Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week, I wrote two separate pieces breaking down how Celtics’ two-way player Tremont Waters performs on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court. Although that type of analysis is saved for a single piece, there was more than enough material to discuss to separate it into individual articles breaking down his play on both ends of the court.

The plan is going to be used yet again as we’re going to use the next two pieces to look at the all-around game of current Dallas Mavericks two-way player Josh Reaves. Because in a similar way to the LSU alum, the 6’5 guard stands as a well-rounded player that can make a tremendous impact on either end of the ball. That two-way nature is partly evident from statistics as he put up 10.6 points, 5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.5 steals and 43% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc on 4.1 attempts per game during his senior season with Penn State.

Among those stats, his steals per game average is the one that stands out the most. Rightfully so as it stood as the best average among any Big 10 player since former Ohio State and Santa Cruz Warriors guard Aaron Craft averaged 2.5 steals per game in the 2013-14 season. Reaves’ ability to force steals unsurprisingly helped out Penn State’s defense as the team finished at a very respectable 27th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, as opponents only averaged 94.5 points per 100 possessions against them.

Reaves’ amazing statistics and ability to make that type of impact unsurprisingly led to him receiving accolades after his senior season. For one, he was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive Team for the second consecutive season. While him being named to that squad became tradition, another award pushed his college career to finish on an incredibly high note. That came when he was named as the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year for the 2018-19 season. He became the first guard to get that award since former Purdue wing Raphael Davis won it in 2014-15.

As is apparent from his numbers, the biggest reason behind Reaves’ success on this end of the floor deals with his ability to force steals. That singular skill seems like an art that the 6’5 guard spent his four-year college career crafting and perfecting.

This crafted technique starts during the milliseconds after the ball starts to leave the fingertips of the passer, as the 6’5 guard is both able to spot it and start moving in that direction. After that recognition occurs, Reaves uses his quick acceleration to burst into the passing lanes and intercept the ball like an NFL cornerback. Due to that initial momentum that he received, Reaves is regularly able to push the ball down the court in transition and finish at the rim without any interference from the opposition.

Honestly, the clip below might be the best visual example of the Penn State alum using that whole process to perfection. As we start, Reaves is working near the paint as a member of the team’s zone defense while the ball-handler starts to get doubled. Recognizing that the offensive player is in trouble, the 6’5 guard starts to inch his way towards the left once the Michigan State guard starts to throw up his arms to throw a bounce pass. Before the ball is able to reach the hand of a fellow Michigan State player, Reaves snatches it up, pushes it down the court and finishes with an easy one-handed slam.

While he stood as one of the best ballhawks in college basketball, the 6’5 guard has more tools in his defensive arsenal. One of those traits includes how he’s capable of sticking with opponent guards as they move from perimeter to paint. That knack is due to a combination of his quick feet and durable 214-pound frame, which prevents any guards from getting any advantage in their attempted drives to the rim.

An example of that is evident in the play below as Reaves is matched up against Illinois point guard Andres Feliz. While it appeared that Feliz had an initial advantage through the Penn State biting on a pump fake, it didn’t last long as our subject regains his footing and stays on the hip of the opposition. Once both men get into the restricted area and the Illinois guard goes up for a layup, the 6’5 guard jumps up with him and makes a strong block.

After not getting selected in this past year’s NBA Draft, Reaves didn’t have to wait long to find out his NBA destiny as the Dallas Mavericks signed him to a two-way deal on July 29th. While that contract will allow him to spend up to 45 days with the Mavs, he’ll likely be spending most if not all of the year down with the Texas Legends as the big league club is pretty deep at both shooting guard and small forward.

While it takes a while for young guards to translate their defensive success over to the pro level, as they have to get used to the increased pace and athleticism of their new counterparts, that might not be the case for Reaves. For one, his instincts of getting into the passing lanes are honestly the one trait that should immediately transfer over to the pro level. The amount of steals that he collects could improve due to how more G League teams utilize ball movement within their offensive sets.

Meanwhile, the Penn State alum shouldn’t have too many problems as an on-ball defender despite G League guards being bigger and more athletic than what he had to deal with in the BIg 10. That’s due to how the 6’5, 214-pound guard should immediately stand on the same level as other guards from a physicality standpoint. This should allow him to still be at the same level as a penetration defender that he was back with Penn State.