Season in Review: Austin Rivers

Published: April 24, 2013

Our series of 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets player evaluations continues with Austin Rivers, the controversial 10th pick of the draft.

With the 10th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, a pick the Hornets received from the Timberwolves via the Clippers in the CP3 trade,  the Hornets selected Austin Rivers out of Duke University.  That was the highpoint of Austin Rivers first NBA season, as all the activity that happened on the court was painful.  It got so ugly, in fact, that ESPN ran an insider article suggesting Austin Rivers was putting up the Worst Season Ever.  Ooph.

Where He Started

It wasn’t easy for Rivers even before he entered the NBA.  He was panned for his play at Duke and even draft experts like Chad Ford at were piling on in an article with Bill Simmons on Grantland:

I just don’t see Rivers ever being anywhere near as unselfish or efficient.[as Lillard] I think Rivers will be shocked at the athleticism and length at his position. He’ll try to do the same things at which he excelled in high school, spend a lot of time on the bench, get into it with his coach and teammates, get traded in a year or two to a desperate team, put up huge numbers for a cellar-dweller for a year or two, make some money, and eventually, teams will realize he can’t be the alpha dog on a winning team.

So – some of that happened.  About a sentence’s worth.  The rest turned out to be garbage and speculation about a person’s character.   Though Rivers is a cocky young buck in front of the media, I’ve rarely seen someone so intent on listening to teammates while trying to get better on the court.  In the end, all the ink spilled about Rivers being an ego-centric, ball-dominating, selfish Alpha Male was worth as much as a Jackson Vroman Hornets Jersey.  Ultimately meaningless.

The Ink spilled about Austin Rivers and his basketball skills, however, was much more on point.

2012-13 Advanced Stats

First, a simple chart that shows how Austin Rivers fared compared to the 2012-13 NBA average for Guards who played at least 10 games and 10 minutes per game in the NBA(courtesy of

Player Name Usage TS% Assist% TO Rate Reb Rate Pts/40 Min
League Average 19.83% 53.5% 22.34% 10.92% 6.0% 15.7
Austin Rivers 16.9% 43.1% 19.89% 11.59% 4.6% 10.6

2012-13 Season Strengths

Free Throw Rate

Austin Rivers roared out of the gate in Summer league by giving us a taste of his ability to draw free throws.  Despite multiple poor-shooting games, he made up for it by getting to the line.  Well, he would have made up for it if he’d hit his free throws . . .  Still, among all guards and wings, his free throw rate of .288 this season ranked him in the top 40.  It’s a strong showing, and tops among all non-big man rookies this season.

Shot Selection

Despite being panned for poor shot selection, the shots Austin Rivers took are not the problem this year.  35.5% of his shots came at the rim, and 22.6% came from three.  Few guards take half their shots from the most efficient areas of the floor.  When you take into account that another 21% came within 3-9 feet from the basket, it becomes apparent that Austin is trying to do the right thing.  Limiting only 20% of his offense to the dumb zone is good basketball.

2012-13 Season Weaknesses

I do want to deliver a different message, but it would take industrial tools to polish this turd.

I mean, where do I start?  He’s been bad to poor at everything not listed above?  Look at the Advanced stats chart above.  He’s below average as an NBA guard in every category.  EVERY CATEGORY.  And it extends to everything measurable.  Most guards in the league need to have something they do well to hang their hat on, but even the two things Rivers does correctly are mitigated by the fact that he can’t make the free throws, and he can’t hit the good shots he manufactures.

Even defensively, where some seek to hang their Rivers hat, Austin has not been strong this season.  Most metrics show the Hornets defense didn’t really change with him on and off the court, and Synergy Sports ranks him 308th in the league as a defender, allowing .91 points per possession defended.  Considering where the team was (29th overall) that is hardly surprising.

So he was a subpar defender, a subpar rebounder, a subpar passer, a subpar shooter.  He earned a 5.9 PER.  5.9!  I’ve never seen that from anyone who played more than a few games worth of minutes.  Win Shares and Win Score both rate him so poorly that they say he single-handedly cost the Hornets games.  That means, by all three metrics, that you could replace him with any good player from a lesser league – D-League, Europe – and do better.  A lot better.

That is also the impetus for the articles stating he was one of the worst players ever.  He produced those low numbers, but played a lot.   Usually when a player has these kinds of issues, he doesn’t get to play.  Rivers played anyway.  So he got the opportunity to make his team worse.

The Future

Alright.  So let’s break out the industrial tools and start polishing.

First, Austin Rivers was 19 and clearly not one of those physical freaks that sport a man’s body at age 15.  He is still sharply behind the curve physically, and that can and will get better.

Second, there have been 19 rookie wings/guards in the past who posted PERs around Austin River’s numbers and age, and they include players like Lance Stephenson, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, and Dorrell Wright.  It is not an automatic death knell to be this bad, this young.

Third, Monty talked about how it was a shame Austin Rivers got hurt when he did, because he was starting to get it.  Both Michael and I in our Podcasts talked about how he seemed to be playing better before his injury.  So I broke out the numbers.  Here is that table from above, including Austin Rivers last 15 games of the season:

Player Name Usage TS% Assist% TO Rate RebRate Pts/40 Min
League Average 19.83 53.5 22.34 10.92 6 15.7
Austin Rivers 16.9 43.1 19.89 11.59 4.6 10.6
Rivers over the last 15 15.8 52.8 20.3 8.29 4.0 11.5

Things start to look a little more promising, don’t they?  And if you take his last 5 games he looks even better, but I prefer to try to expand my sample sizes when I can.  The numbers above are approaching serviceable, and that’s a good sign.

Lastly, there are the defensive numbers.  As I noted above, Synergy Sports ranks Austin Rivers 308th in the league.  However, if I narrow Austin Rivers’ defensive plays to just those that occurred over his last 15 games, he was allowing only 0.84 points per possession defended – a number that would rank him 116th in the entire league.  To put that in perspective, defensive standout Paul George ranks 110th.

So there is little question that Rivers played much better over his last 15.  If he can continue to play that way, the Pelicans have at least a rotation player – and considering most players don’t reach their statistical peak until age 24 or 25, he has a chance to be more.

At least, we can hope that’s the case.  Right?  Let me know if the polish leaves a shine below.

Check out the entire Season in Review series here at