With the advent of two-way contracts two seasons ago, NBA rosters have now expanded from 15 to 17 players. Even still, that roster size is easily the smallest of the main sports and thus the annual NBA Draft need only be two rounds.
But 60 picks for a player pool of hundreds leaves a lot of talent unclaimed after NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces the final pick in June.
Players like NBA champions Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen, former Maverick Wesley Matthews and current Mav J.J. Barea all signed as undrafted free agents.
The next big name in line could be Josh Reaves.
Reaves, 22, agreed to a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. The former Penn State Nittany Lion played four years and developed into one of college basketball’s premier defensive players.
A 6-foot-5 guard with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Reaves was twice named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team, and last season he finished off an accomplished NCAA career by being named the conference’s best defender, taking home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“Honestly, I think defense is fun,” Reaves said. “It’s a big part of the game that isn’t really harped on, but I really do think it’s fun. It’s something that I enjoy doing.”
The love for defense came from a sibling rivalry. His older brother was bigger than he was, so he had to figure out a way to stop him.
“I had to learn how to keep him from scoring somehow,” Reaves jokes. “That’s where it started. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do and people are not always comfortable doing it.”
Picked up by the Mavericks after the NBA Draft, he played five games in the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and .8 blocks in 23.4 minutes a game.
He admits to some jitters prior to his pro debut. “The first game I was very nervous. The pace of it, just how to play, I felt I was a step slow. The second game I felt like I came into myself, was more confident, was able to move around a little bit and take advantage of the spacing that was out there. Just play basketball and enjoy myself.
“My trainer at school always used to tell me I play my best when I’m smiling and having a good time. I try to take advantage of that and just play basketball.”
Dallas brass really liked what they saw from the Fairfax, Virginia native, especially this highlight half-court heave against the Timberwolves. He hails from the esteemed Oak Hill Academy, which has produced NBA stars like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
A lockdown defender, Reaves turned a corner offensively after the halfway point in his collegiate career. He averaged a very respectable 6.1 points per game as a freshman, 7.7 as a sophomore, and then jumped to double digits with an equal 10.6 points a game in his junior and senior seasons.
“It was just confidence in my shot, in my abilities, and in the little things,” Reaves said. “My teammates really helped me out, continued to tell me if we needed a bucket, don’t second guess yourself. Just play. Shoot the ball if you’re open and do all the things we need you to do.”
His offense intends to catch up to his defense, and if his college progression is any indication, the forecast looks promising.
“I continuously work on it, I continuously try to get better and hone my skills to try and become the best player I can be. I feel like it’s helped and I’m going to continue to develop myself. I know I can always try to get better on offense as well as defense.”
During his senior season at Penn State, he also averaged over five rebounds, three assists and a block to go with 2.5 steals, good for 13th in the nation.
In an era of offense-obsessed one-and-done players, Reaves is a defensive star who played all four years in school, coming out of college a developed player and person. “I think I got a better feel for the game, better decision-making on and off the floor. I think it really helped me mature as an individual.
“You go through college, you go through the ups and downs and the twists and turns, the time management of being there and being able to get adjusted to it all. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that helped me.”
As all rookies go, he’s not a finished product, but his college experience helped him learn how to be a leader before he turned pro.
“In a leadership aspect, being a senior, you have to teach young guys different things, a new system that is completely new to them. Just being able to be there for them when they need you and to be a guy they can ask questions to because you have the answers.
“You’ve done four years, you’ve been through it all.”
A developing jumper and offensive repertoire adds to an already elite defensive package with added versatility. His defense alone warranted looks from a handful of NBA teams and could expedite his journey to the Mavericks rotation.
“I think it will give me a little edge,” Reaves says. “At the end of the day, it’s who’s going to work the hardest. Hopefully the defense gives me the advantage, but I’m just going to come out and play my game and then if things come from that I’ll be happy about it. But I just want to play as long as I can and keep doing the things that got me here.”
Reaves is here indeed, now the newest member of the Dallas Mavericks and kicking off his NBA journey with a two-way contract.