Over the next week plus Pelican Debrief will be rolling out season reviews of all the players that at one point or another in the 2013-2014 season could be classified as rotation players. So far we have taken a look at Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller, Jeff Withey, Jason Smith, Alexis Ajinca, and Greg Stiemsma. Today is time for the first guard on the list, Austin Rivers.
Stats: 69 games played (4 starts) 19.4 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.7 SPG
Highlight: In the two April games vs. the Houston Rockets, Austin Rivers put up his best numbers of the year. Rivers averaged 19 points, 7 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers. The Pelicans went 1-1 in those games.
The Good: Rivers greatly improved his shooting percentage from his awful rookie season. His FG% jumped from 37.2% last year to 40.5% this year. He also used his improved decision making and aggressive drives to the basket to get to the foul line. Rivers went from averaging 1.8 FTA per game last year to 2.5 FTA per game this year. It all added up to the Pelicans having a much better offensive rating with him on the court (107 OffRtg ON) than off the court (103.6 OffRtg OFF). While those numbers can see even more of an increase as his experience goes up, the large increase in production and ability to get to the line is a great step forward.
The Bad: Poor shooting. For how much his numbers have improved, he is still one of the worst shooters on the team. Only Luke Babbit had a worse FG% this year than Rivers. He struggled greatly from right under the basket, shooting a dreadful 45.05% from the restricted area. Rivers attacked the basket well, however his arsenal of moves seemed predictable at times, leading to his shot being blocked 50 times this season.
The Ugly: Free throw percentage. Last year Austin Rivers was awful from the free throw line. He improved the 54.6 FT% from last year, but only got it up to 63.6 FT%. For a guard who attacks the basket like Rivers does, he needs to be more consistent from the line if he wants to be a real threat on the floor. Averaging close to one missed free throw per game is not going to cut it.
After what was arguably the worst rookie campaign in NBA history, Austin Rivers made this past season a year of vast improvement. And while the second year of the Austin Rivers’ saga proved to be much better than the first, fans are now left with more questions than answers about the former #10 pick in the NBA draft. For most of the first half of the season, Rivers rode the bench behind a plethora of guards in New Orleans. However thanks to the injury woes of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, Rivers finally got his share of minutes later on in the year
While Rivers improved, his season seemed to be a mix of good and bad. The good was from his ability to score the ball. Last season, Rivers was out of control for the most of the year trying to find his place in the offense. This year, he stuck to the moves he’s gotten down the best, which are a quick crossover move and the spin drive to the layup. Sticking to these moves helped improve his FG% in his sophomore season. Another huge improvement was his off-ball movement. Last year, Rivers tended to stand around the three point line when he didn’t have the ball in his hands, yet his use of off-ball screens this year got him better shots and helped the team’s offense flow.
All of the advanced stats showed huge improvement. His usage percentage went from 17.2% last year to 21.5% this year while his turnover rate went dropped from 11.6% as a rookie to 9.8% this past season. His points per 36 minutes went way up from 9.6 to 14.3 per game and his free throws attempted per 36 minutes went from 2.7 to 4.7. Overall, Rivers numbers have vastly improved across the board. However, this doesn’t mean Rivers season was a complete victory.
Rivers is still way below average in the NBA in free throw shooting. The average FT% for an NBA player this season was 75.6%, while Rivers sits at 63.6%, a drastic difference. He’s also way under the league average in effective FG%, sitting at a 44.3 effective FG% compared to the league average of 50.1%. Unfortunately, most of the moments Rivers will be remembered for this year aren’t good ones. This includes the James Harden crossover on him in the Rockets win in New Orleans January 15th, along with his ejection after an altercation with Nick Collison in the Pelicans game vs. the Thunder on April 14th.
While Rivers isn’t a complete bust anymore, it leaves the Pelicans in a very tricky situation about what to do with him. Rivers only got his chance to show his improvement because of the injury bug. Until January 11th, where Rivers started filling in for Jrue Holiday, he averaged just 5.63 minutes a game, including nine out of 19 games where he did not play at all. With Holiday, Gordon and Evans all under contract for next season, it will be difficult for Rivers to see much time on the court.
It’s tough to really know what Austin Rivers is made of since the only real chance to make the rotation was dashed with his awful rookie season. The Pelicans are already stacked at guard, which means Rivers will either be riding the bench most of next season or could possibly be moved to another team. Still, he’s vastly improved from last year and if he gets the minutes, he could really pan out to be a great scoring guard in the league. Will Rivers get minutes in the Pelicans rotation next year? Will he be on the move? Can he continue to improve if given the chance?
This is a season that left more questions than answers, which could leave Austin Rivers fuzzy about his future in the NBA and with the Pelicans.