Beneath the Screen: Cry Me a Rivers?

Published: January 18, 2013

There has been a lot of discussion here, on twitter, and other sites about whether Austin Rivers should spend some time in the D-League. The reasoning has been centered around his poor play. While he’s obviously not a star player or even a decent rookie, is his play really that bad?

There’s no denying that Rivers is having a poor season. A 5.5 PER is way below the average of 15 and bad even if you don’t like advanced stats. But, I actually think there is a lot of overacting going on. I went through the film of his past games and dug deeper into his stats to try and get a better understanding of what’s going on.

The Turnovers

His turnovers are often pointed out to be a problem of his game. However, he only averages 2 turnovers per 36 minutes. That’s below the 3.6 for Vasquez and 2.5 for Eric Gordon. But what makes up those turnovers? A lot of it is comprised of bad passes but it’s important to see if they come from a poor decisions or just because Rivers isn’t a good passer yet.

After watching a lot of film, Rivers tends to make the right passes, he just doesn’t have the skill to get the ball to the spot he wants yet. And so the play ends with a turnover.

Honestly, I’m fine with that right now. Most everyone has referred to Rivers as an experiment at point guard this season. He’s going to have some bad passes. How to make those passes better falls a lot on Monty and the coaching staff–along with Rivers’ work ethic. There will be ups and downs this season. The downs have been really low, but were the expectations really that high? We kind of knew this was coming. Hypothetically with a healthy Eric Gordon to start, was this season really about the ‘now?’

Finishing my minor tangent/rant: I don’t talk a whole lot about Rivers because I’m not someone who rushes to judge things. We’re only through about half of his rookie season. It’s far too early to sum up his career. Pretty much anything is a possibility still–from out of the NBA to MVP. That’s what drives me crazy about the Austin Rivers is the worst rookie ever talk. Let’s say Rivers ends up as an okay bench player with a long career. Will anyone care he had the worst rookie season of all time? Will it even get brought up?

Anyway, back to the turnovers. Aside from the passes, which aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be, you have things like this…To the Madistrator!


The play starts off a standard pick and roll the Hornets run with Anderson setting the screen.


Rivers attacks and causes the help defends to collapse. Even Anderson’s defender sinks in and leave Anderson wide open. So how does the play end?

Rivers travels. It’s annoying but overall was a good play. Rivers attacked, drew in the defense and made the correct pass to Anderson. That play is not distinguished in the box score from another turnover, but it’s the type of play I want to see him making.

The Shooting

Other than the turnovers and confidence (which is hard to quantify and dig into) the biggest knock on Rivers is his shooting. But, again, it’s not as bad as people are making it out to be.

First the percentages: 33.2% from the field, 33.3% from deep, and 56% from the line. Not good.

But I’m more concerned if Rivers is taking bad attempts. First I looked at the film, and you know what? Rivers in mainly taking good looks, he’s just having trouble finishing. There are A LOT of missed layups. That’s fine. Rivers will learn how to finish better. I checked over on which conveniently  has shot location data for us.

Let’s look at that: At the rim: 2.4 attempts per game. 3-9 feet: 1.3 attempts. 10-15 feet: 0.7 attempts. 16-23 feet: 0.7 attempts. Threes: 1.8 attempts.

Of those location breakdowns anything in that 10-23 range (the long two point shot) is where you want the least amount of attempts taken. Rivers is doing just that. Additionally, Rivers only has 11.4% of his makes at the rim assisted on. That’s the lowest on the team and tells me he’s capable of dribble penetration and getting to the rim on his own. That is a skill the Hornets desperately need more of.

I believe it was Kevin Pelton who said that finishing is a skill most players come into the league with rather than develop. That very well may be true. However, I’d rather have a player taking good shots poorly over a player who is okay a terrible shots. Rivers only needs a small improvement of his finishing ability to boost up his stats greatly. At the very least, causing the defense to collapse into the paint and kicking the ball out to an open shooter works.

Additionally, he only just turned 20. He will almost certainly add mass/muscle which will help him finish in traffic and hopefully send him to the line. It’s also worth noting that Rivers draws a shooting foul 11% of the time as the pick and roll ball handler which is higher than Vasquez and Gordon.

If anything, this puts most of the future work on Monty and the coaching staff to develop Rivers’ talent. Monty has shown flashes of having the ability to develop his players’ skills. Rivers should be his biggest challenge yet.

Beneath the Screen is a reoccurring series throughout the season run on Fridays. See past editions here.


  1. 504ever

    January 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm


    Where we disagree is most of River problems in the NBA where problems for him in college. So they may not be something coaching can’t fix. The worst flaw in River’s NBA game is also the worst flaw in his college game: he can get to the basket on his own but has a hard time finishing. Other NBA flaws that were also present in college include poor assist to turnover ratio and inconsistent perimeter shooting, including wide open looks.

    My point is these problems may be unfixable, and may be just part of River’s game. If that is true, time will not lead to significant improvement.

    • Jake Madison

      January 19, 2013 at 9:08 am

      That’s all fair to say. But I also think that while his shooting/finishing is terrible right now, it can’t be this bad forever (at least I hope not). All he needs is a little improvement to boost his stats greatly. It’s ultimately going to fall on Monty. This summer I started a draft of a post that looked at if Monty is good at developing talent. I never finished it but it might be worth revisiting now.

  2. NOHrevolution

    January 19, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Great article! I really do think a lot of people need to step off the ledge when it comes to Rivers. This was nicely layer out to talk them down.

    @504ever These problems may very well be unfixable, but the fact that you said “may” shows that we don’t know yet. That’s the point. It’s too early to even start to give up on Rivers for so many reasons. What if he does learn to finish? It’ll take a great work ethic, which for him has been well documented.

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  4. cantrellejobie37

    January 21, 2013 at 5:45 am

    Great point in “stepping away from the ledge” i personally have restrained myself from giving any insight to rivers(besides to my wife) because it is simply to early. I was a fan of the pick and think besides maybe lamb he had the highest potential should he ever figure it out. So until then i shall root him on and hope he continues to improve 🙂

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