Austin Rivers is no longer Historically Awful

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Published: January 27, 2014

I felt bad for Rivers last year.  It’s a bit of an understatement to say that he got slammed by most of the NBA-related media.  The draft kept being referred to as a 9-man draft, with Rivers brought up at 10 as the perfect eye-rolling example of a failure.   I wasn’t too kind either, as I tried to be optimistic, but I’ll remind you I didn’t even have him in my top 15 draft prospects that season. (I also had Damian Lillard 13th and Royce White 10th.  What?)

By the end of the season, Rivers finished with the 6th worst PER ever for a player with at least his minutes played, and the 14th worst in Win Shares. (Fun Fact: The winner of worst Win Shares ever is Woody Sauldsberry, back in the 1960’s.  In one season he played 1491 minutes and shot 29.9% from the field on 11 shots per game.  He owns 3 of the 4 worst Win Shares seasons ever.  Unfathomable.)

Well, I have news for all you Austin Rivers fans!  Austin’s most promising attribute was always his youth and the hope he could turn an excellent handle and first step into something useful offensively. (It’s definitely not his name.  Every time I hear his name, I  think of that old Sylvan Learning Center commercial where a proud mom says “Austin, you’re a reader!” Anyone else have this problem?)  The good new is that Austin has improved!  He is no longer historically awful!

He is now only replacement level bad.

His PER has risen to 10.8 from 5.9 last year.  According to PER-creator John Hollinger’s models, an average guard pulled from outside the league during the season (i.e. any replacement player) will be able to produce a PER of about 10.5.   So he’s got that beat!  And if you look at his Win Shares or Win Produced per 48, he’s no longer putting up negative numbers. (I.E. actually costing wins) Instead, his numbers are ever so slightly positive.  YAY!

On a serious note, this is good news.  Rivers physically looked like a boy amongst men last year.  This year he looks bigger and more able to handle the physical demands of playing against NBA-sized men. He’s starting to finish more often at the rim, and has cut down on the number of times per game he dribbles into trouble with no escape plan.  Since guards typically peak statistically when they are 24-25 years old, he’s still got three years to continue to figure things out.  If he continues to improve on a similar track as we’re seeing now, he could easily be producing at the level of an average NBA guard or better by the end of his rookie contract.

For reference, here’s his numbers the past two seasons, normalized per 36 minutes.  Other than rebounding, it’s all improvement.

Season FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
2012-13 9.9 .372 2.2 .326 2.7 .546 2.8 3.2 0.7 0.2 1.9 9.6
2013-14 12.4 .394 2.6 .364 4.3 .618 2.6 3.6 1.3 0.2 1.6 13.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2014.

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