Weakside Eyes: The Legend of Austin Rivers

By:
Published: April 17, 2014
BOXING-GLOVES-JY9103[1]

I dunno know what the answer is. There’s something ’bout his game dat doesn’t make my eyes feel good

–Lenny the Cabbie

Since Jrue Holiday went down with an injury, the point guard debate has caused families to engage in dinner hour food fights. The surprise in all of this is the fact that I was surprised that families still dine together. Who would be the point guard that can play-make the Pelicans to a sort of respectable offensive structure?

Let’s jump into the Austin Rivers eye test and see what we see.

First, shall we look at some basic numbers over the last ten games? Why not!

Last 10 games (averages):

  • 29.1 minutes per game
  • 11.7 points per game
  • 4.9 assists per game, 1.9 turnovers per game
  • 4.0 defensive rebounds per game, 0.9 steals per game
  • 41% shooting
  • 2.2/3.8 = 58% free throws (painful for a point guard)
  • 0.9/1.8 = 50% three point percentage (perhaps misleading because there aren’t enough attempts (18))

Last 5 games (averages):

  • 34.7 minutes per game
  • 14.8 points per game
  • 5.8 assists per game, 1.4 turnovers per game
  • 5.8 defensive rebounds per game, 1.0 steals per game
  • 42% shooting
  • 2.4/4.0 = 60% free throws

I’ve listed some basic numbers without going off the deep end. I took those stats and filtered them through my eye test.

  • Rivers’ game has not yet evolved. He is still stuck in the “when to pass and when to shoot” quandary. The great Oscar Robertson in an interview I did with him a few years ago said, “The toughest thing a player has to learn is when to pass and when to shoot.” Robertson when on to explain how that plays a tremendous part in a player understanding his role.
  • Rivers does have basketball talent, and his what seems to be a stiff style may cause some people to tag him with an unfair label. What is obvious is the lack of a consistent jump shot and a not being very reliable free throw shooter . . . jumper is wood-like rigid.
  • Rivers has shown improvement in getting into the lane (penetration skills have gotten better), yet he is still lacking the “finishing touch” when maneuvering in a defensive maze . . . that can be improved upon in time.
  • Rivers is a point A to point B point guard. He is not yet a creative guard who sees situations develop which hampers his play-making ability. He misses out (or does he fail to see) moments in the game when scoring passes are there.
  • As a defender he is better on the initial defensive assignment (the early stages of the pick and roll is one example). As the action evolves and the ball movement begins, his defensive play begins to slip, and that’s when his concentration waivers. That can be improved upon, as well.

Required Summer Courses

  • Endless repetition shooting the ball
    • Off the dribble & catch
    • No free throws, no breakfeast (shoot plenty before you eat)
  • Watch game tape
  • Work on creative aspects of your game . . . passing . . . angles . . . reading the floor . . . advancing the ball . . . off the ball defense . . .

I am not bailing out on Rivers, as he is too young and maturity and emotional poise is something that usually arrives with experience. Dinner conversations with his Dad will prove to be more significant this summer.

Let’s wait for the Rivers to hit high tide before we abandon ship.

A last note regarding maturity: Rivers allowed himself to be suckered in a mini rumble with Nick Collison in Monday’s game, which was another example of his immaturity. He forgot his team was depleted at the point guard position. Rivers should have ignored the shove that happened in transition and played on. He selected the “bad hombre” approach and cost the team needed depth. I realize the team won and Tyreke Evans was superb, but the lesson was missed by Rivers.


Gerry V is a 21-year NBA analyst, 17-year talk radio host, a 16-year coach . . . also hosts “Gerry V’s “Talk Back Live on 99.5 WRNO New Orleans right after every Saints Sunday Game. Follow Gerry V on twitter (@GVTalk).

32 comments
GerryV
GerryV

I would love to see Rivers develop his handle..the "escape game" that would get him to the 15-18 ft range for jumpers coupled with some off speed change of  direction to the rack action…ooh-la-la! that would spice up game night right?

kibner
kibner

Rivers is my favorite player in the NBA (I honestly have no idea why) and I feel that this article is pretty spot on. His shooting form has improved (much fewer instances of chicken wing) and the release on his free throws looks better. Hopefully, he shakes off whatever mental block is preventing him from making FTs at like a 70% rate.


This year, I was happy with him as a ninth man. I hope he continues to improve to become a key rotation player.

HawnitsFanatic
HawnitsFanatic

I think you dismiss Rivers' defensive prowess a little too much in this article, but other than that I think all are valid points. His 1 on 1 defense is better than what we saw from Jrue this year, but his help defense is definitely lacking most nights, and his decisions on PnR "appear" to be a slight weakness, though part of that is Monty's scheme (aka Conley game-winner earlier this year). You'd be hard pressed to find examples of PGs breaking down Austin 1v1 and getting where they want on the court, and he has shown the ability to get back into the play after a poor decision in PnR when he has little business doing so.

Offensively, court vision is his biggest glaring weakness, so we agree there V. His passes out of the crowded lane to the perimeter tend to be weak and can lead to turnovers. He did suddenly figure out how to pass to Ajinca/Withey late in the season on his drives though. A very nice sight to see.

The FTs are confounding to me. That has been such a big problem early in his career, that you can visibly see his body language change when he steps to the line. You can tell almost instantly based on his form whether or not it has a chance of going in. I feel like at least 50%+ of his problems at the line are mental. 

He needs to add a little muscle so he can get the ball on the rim on his drives when he gets mauled. The refs tend to swallow their whistles, and I feel that his inability to get the ball on the rim is a huge factor when it comes to that. 

CONFIDENCE: There is no denying the simple fact that post-Roberts injury, Rivers upped his game to a different level. Playing 45 minutes and not looking gassed shows what a gamer and gym rat this kid is. Part of me legitimately wonders if Monty didn't have such a man-crush on Roberts what we would be saying about Rivers right now had he been given the reigns after Jrue's injury. (Don't dismiss the man crush as he played Steimsma/Aminu for defense at the expense of offense and the difference between Roberts/Rivers on defense is infinitely more glaring than the people behind the former 2 on the depth chart (if there is a different from Steimsma/Ajinca and Aminu/Miller at all).

ATTITUDE: I frankly don't care if Austin plays with the "bad hombre" mentality. You NEED people like that on your team that aren't going to take crap. It's funny how people will criticize AR for getting kicked out of the OKC game, but neglect to bring up the fact that he was barking at 5 Kings at mid-court alone after Reggie Evans elbowed the crap out of our franchise player. He certainly doesn't have a problem with mixing it up with PGs and I certainly like that. 

WORK ETHIC: Undeniable. 

I certainly don't want to see him leave as a growth from 2 to 3 similar to this year would turn out to be a huge commodity on our bench. I wonder with Gordon/Morrow around just how many minutes are available for Austin next year. I'd personally bet my ass on the fact that Rivers will eventually be a solid 30-35 min/night guy just a couple years down the road.

Aussie Pels Fan
Aussie Pels Fan

I'm not going to deny that ive got a soft spot for rivers and that could lead me to a clouded assessment of his game but i definitely believe that he has all the tools to be a solid nba player. By no means does he have elite quickness or athleticism but his crafty ball handling skills allow him to create space for himself to either pull up from mid range (which he seems more comfortable doing) or attack the basket, and along with that has a reliable 3 point shot. He's a willing defender and since being a starter I've been really surprised with his activity on the boards. There's plenty of room for improvement in all facets of his game, particularly his court vision and ball protection when attacking the basket at times. It seems obvious to me that this is a kid who came out of college a year too early and is still learning the game each time he steps out on the floor. I continue to see plenty of improvement and I give him a heap of credit for his growth.

Also a little intrigued to see what peoples opinions/projections would have been if this were rivers' rookie season?

PelicanDownUnder
PelicanDownUnder

One small tendency I noticed is Austin's game (eye-test only) is that even though he can drive in either direction past his defender, he always tries to finish with his right hang, and its a killer when he drives left because it negates any advantage of putting his defender on his back. I know this was an issue we were talking about last year that he could naturally correct after he broke his hand but that doesn't look like the case.

Side note, I'd love to be able to back this up with advanced stats but I can't find them. Where would you go to find these kind of stats? (example, TS% when driving right opposed to TS% driving left) Or is in only available in the paid version of Synergy?

NOEngineer
NOEngineer

Their is nothing inconsistent about saying that Rivers is below average, needs to improve, and has improved greatly.  He started off so poorly that he had the most room to improve of just about any player in league history.   He has improved, but is still below average when looking at his overall game.  Gerry's advice appears to be perfectly valid on all counts.    If Rivers continues to improve at the rate he has demonstrated he will eventually move past average to become a solid contributor.    How fast and how much he improves is the big question, and the future is always open for debate!    I am happy to have him on the team while we find out whether he will make the leap, but I'm more than willing to include him in a trade if that helps the team achieve the playoffs next year.   I think it unlikely that Rivers will be a significant net positive next year, but instead will achieve that status the following year.    

Pelican Poster
Pelican Poster

I think Austin is coming along well...and will continue to...just looking at his drives last year vs this year is revealing itself...and he's shown he can do it against good players as well...then this past week vs Houston I see him hitting mid-range pull up jumpers at a pretty high rate...I'm liking what I'm seeing and remembering that next year he would have been a Senior at Duke.  I like his drive and spirit and willingness to work hard.

Steven J
Steven J

Going off of the eye test that you've mentioned, I think Austin Rivers has improved a lot. He definitely has some improving to do, but if he can improve this summer like last summer then he can be a quality backup for us. I'll admit I have been ready to give up on Rivers before, but he has been shooting a lot better and finishing at the rim better lately. I particularly believe that he gives the ball up too often, but I'm sure that is in Monty's plans. Free throws have to improve next year, but I'm sure he'll improve on it. He definitely came out of college too soon, but by next year when he is 22 years old he'll be right where he should be. 

PelicanSaints
PelicanSaints

I agree totally on your assessment of Rivers going forward into the summer......His improvement from year one to now has been encouraging .....hopefully he can change his approach to the game to be more of a facilitator and realize he will get his shots within the flow of the game......his has to shed the pound the ball brat boy mentality..........

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

I love this! We have some readers who say we talk too nicely about Austin - lookin at you 504 :) - and now we have one who says we never say anything nice. 

How can both be true? 

Love it! 

Teamball101
Teamball101

Rivers can do no right, the article is concentrated on focusing on his negatives versus pointing out his postives. This website never point out the leaps and bound rivers has evolved from his rookie season. You guys are so quick to be critical an pick apart his game. Sometimes it feel like he is on the opposing team the way these article and podcast scrutinize him. Im done with Bourbon Street Shoots!

GerryV
GerryV

@HawnitsFanatic  I have missed nothing about his defensive play..he look good on the initial stance ( and yes defensive rules don't allow you to get physical) but he needs to learn how to space and play angles vs players…I bet more tape viewing and study about certain aspects of that nights matchup would help…young players don't appreciate the value of studying their opponent on tape….he will eventually understand  this.

GerryV
GerryV

@Aussie Pels Fan  he needs to add a ll off speed stuff…mix it up a lil..plays at the same speed all the time ….and yes he is young so he has time to learn this…the summer is key for him.


504ever
504ever

@Aussie Pels Fan  

Whatever season this is, offensively Rivers is basically still the guy he was in his freshman year at Duke:  he gets to the basket but doesn't finish well, is an inconsistent outside shooter, is not a great facilitator (2:1 assist/turnover ratio, similar to college but better than last year's 3:2), and has a PER of 11.60 (well below NBA average of 15.00, which is Withey's 1st year PER).  Since Duke, Rivers free throw shooting has gone down and, in the last few games, he has shown signs of a midrange game.

My simple question is: how many 2nd year NBA players with a PER of around 11.60 ever get to an average PER?  I suspect it isn't many.  

GerryV
GerryV

@Steven J  That is what would hope for.Its important for a player to go home in the summer knowing what he needs to do to become a bigger factor He has improved.but still has to grow in a few areas to validate his high selection in the draft.

504ever
504ever

@Michael McNamara  

No offense taken, but please don't compare me to Teamball101.  This article was about where Rivers is now and how he could get better, just what you would expect to see after the season is over.  It was fair.  And it wasn't about how Rivers got to this point.

GerryV
GerryV

@Teamball101  Teamball101: Its about evaluation and how a player can improve.If a player ( in this case you) can't handle the fact that his game will be graded the league will eat him alive.Its the NBA…"no babies allowed"….the evaluation process is a constant at this level.The site is all about a variety of observations.Speaking for myself,I'm not here to simply write something that pleases everyone.I  state my opinion based on 22 years in the NBA and over 4o years of being part of the game.You'll be back.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes moderator

Seconding bob... I think many readers know that the "never" is absolutely erroneous. If you like, team, I can link you to several articles evaluating him with favorable conclusions. You ask, I'll do it.

bobmurrell
bobmurrell

@Teamball101  you're talking about one contributor. If you read the site, you'll see after each game recap that there's praise for Austin. If anything you're being hypocritical of giving up on this site!

Aussie Pels Fan
Aussie Pels Fan

@504ever

Interesting way to look at it. I did a very quick rummage through some stats and Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward and klay Thompson were among a few players to drastically increase their PER from sophomore season to at least an average rating. There could be more than you think

kibner
kibner

@504ever

Minor note: A 15 PER is average for a starter; not average for a player. It is also heavily dependent on offensive stats.

New City
New City

@GerryV @Teamball101  GV, fair analysis overall, but I think you're short changing Rivers a little on the defensive side. Sure, his concentration can waver off ball, but I think he's developed into an above average on-ball defender, perhaps second only to Jrue on this team. I think he's become particularly adept at disrupting passing lanes and takes pride in his defensive game, a rarity among young players, especially ones who came up as offensive stars.  On the other side, Rivers obviously showed some promise down the stretch both as a catch-and-shoot wing at the three-point line and nailing mid-rangers to punish defenders who sag under the screen. Small sample size, of course, but given his development from year one to year two, I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can further develop both skills. He has a ways to go as lead guard, and he falls far too often into ball-dominate over-dribbling, effectively grinding the offense to a halt. But he shows signs of being a willing passer and I think his decision making on shoot/pass will naturally come along with experience. If I was picking one skill for him to work on it would be free throws. With first step and handle he's going to get hacked a lot going to the rim. If he can get his FT to 80%+, he's going to be a handful. Oddly, his game seems to have a little Tyreke Evans, minus forty pounds and a couple of inches. My eye test was my internal comfort level when Rivers was handed the keys. As the season went I on I found myself relaxing more and more when he was on the floor. I think he can be a valuable rotation combo guard for us. I'm not sure where his ceiling is, but I like his moxie and passion for the game. I'm looking forward to watching him next year and that's not something I'm sure I would have said at the end of last season.

504ever
504ever

@Cadenza94 @504ever  

I listed Rivers' and Withey's PER rank by position to show  Withey is better at his position than Rivers at his  That also takes away any argument about a PER positional bias because Cs are ranked against Cs, PGs against PGs.  

And, since Withey came into the league as a defensive C, it can't be said that the known inability to capture defensive ability with the statistics PER is based on hurts Rivers more than Withey.

Bottom line:  Withey (and Ajinca with his 14.62 PER) are  currently better players than Rivers.  What will happen in the future?  We will see.

NOEngineer
NOEngineer

@Cadenza94 @504ever  The FG% for big men is higher only if shot selection is smart.    The statistic doesn't care how big you are, only that you don't waste possessions by missing shots or having them blocked.   PER also rewards high usage, whether or not that usage results in points.   I bet that factor helps Austin and hurts Jeff.   

Cadenza94
Cadenza94

@504ever Withey's PER is higher because he's a big man(PER is biased towards them due to the higher FG%)

Rivers doubling his PER while playing 5 less minutes is very encouraging. His defense is very solid as well(which PER neglects)


504ever
504ever

@Aussie Pels Fan  

Would love to see BBS do an analysis with ratio of players who improved and who didn't, and analysis of how they improved.  It would provide a factual way thru PER to view Rivers potential upside.  

My point is Rivers' max upside may be an average, not special, NBA player.  BBS has done a great draft analysis that points out the odds of various levels of NBA success for players picked 10th-15th. Wish I had a way to link it. (Can a mod link it for us?)  

We are happy Philly is only getting the 10th pick in this draft.  Why are we so excited about our 10th pick from two years ago?  Someone else said it best: 'Rivers isn't part of the team's core.  If we have to trade him to get better, fine.'

504ever
504ever

@kibner @504ever  

You clearly don't understand math. So let's try it a different way.  

This quote is from "Player Efficiency Rating" in Wikipedia:  "The Player efficiency rating (PER) is John Hollinger's all-in-one basketball rating, which attempts to boil down all of a player's contributions into one number. Using a detailed formula, Hollinger developed a system that rates every player's statistical performance....A league-average PER is always 15.00, which permits comparisons of player performance across seasons."

Notice it says a 15.00 PER is a "league-average", not a starters' average!

kibner
kibner

@504ever

So, starters are, on average, at 15 PER. Just like I said.

504ever
504ever

@kibner @504ever  

NO!  The player in the league with a PER of 15.01 is ranked 139th in the NBA.  There are 30 teams in the NBA.  139/30= 4.63.  In other words, on average and based on PER ranking, a player with a PER of 15.00 is barely starting on an NBA team.

Yes, PER has an offensive bias, defensive stats are harder to quantify, yet our defensive C Withey has a PER above 15.00 in his first season!  

Here is another comparison: Rivers is ranked 58/70 (17th Percentile) out of all PGs based on PER!  Withey is ranked (37th Percentile) out of all Cs based on PER and 5th out of all rookies despite being a 2nd round pick.  (If Rivers was a rookie he's be ranked 14th and in the 50th Percentile!)