A Critical Time for Austin Rivers

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Published: September 26, 2014

With the New Orleans Pelicans roster pretty much set, the onset of training camp and preseason is key Monty Williams to get an idea of the rotation he plans to use. Players will have an opportunity to edge out one another for limited minutes. And there is no one on the Pelicans who needs a strong training camp than Austin Rivers.

Last season the now third year guard saw his minutes decline yet saw a marked improvement in many of his stats. The departure of Brian Roberts seemingly opened the door for Rivers to be the backup point guard, but the trade for Russ Smith and signing of Jimmer Fredette (and, to an extent, John Salmons) muddled up the situation for the former 10th overall pick.

Rivers has been an absolute gym-rat this offseason, telling John Reid:

”I was constantly working the entire summer,” Rivers said. ”I gained 10 pounds and I’ve got stronger in my upper body. This is my year…I’ve strictly worked on mid-range and getting my body stronger this summer,” Rivers said earlier this week. ”I’ve got both of those things and I’m ready to prove and show people that this year.”

Rivers’ attitude is what you’d want to see, and expect, from a coaches’ son. No one will question that. But let’s look at how his improvements might help the Pelicans.

Getting Stronger

Getting to the rim has never been a problem for Rivers. He has a strong handle and beat defenders off the dribble. But finishing at the rim has been a weakness. Rivers has a slim build and gets knocked around easily when he gets into the restricted area as evidenced by his 48.64 shooting percentage there. Adding ten pounds and upper body strength should help River finish through contact for the and one opportunity. Raising that shooting percentage to at least the league average should allow Rivers to help the Pelicans’ second unit avoid scoring droughts.

This strength will, in theory, allow him to fight through screens better while on defense. Russ Smith is a tenacious defender, and with Monty being a defensive coach, you better believe Rivers needs to see his defense continue to improve if he wants to stay on the court.

Mid-Range

River was atrocious last season from mid-range, shooting a lousy 24.39%. Raising that would obviously help his points per game. More than that, it is also an area on the court where Rivers should get a ton of good looks. Known as a rim attacker, defenders tend to cheat off Rivers and sag back into the paint. This packs the area under the rim making it harder for Rivers to get good looks up close.  It also takes passing lanes to bigs like Anthony Davis away. Developing a reliable mid-range game will keep defenders honest and allows teammates more options for moves like backdoor cuts.

And if this has been his main focus this offseason, you can be certain Monty instructed him to do so. The Pelicans’ offense will revolved around Anthony Davis and letting him and River run mid pick and rolls should worry opponents if Rivers starts making his shots. Pick your poison, and most teams will choose to take away Davis. Leaving a wide open Rivers. Hopefully for a made two.

 

Are these the areas we want to see Rivers improving? Yes and no. Getting stronger is important because getting to the rim and getting fouled is compounded by Rivers’ poor free throw shooting—though it’s worth noting that went up 10% last season. Focusing on his three-point shot over mid-range would set Rivers up to be a floor spacer and help replace some of the production from Anthony Morrow, but at this point the coaches and Pelicans’ fans will welcome any improvement to Rivers’ game. If not, it may be time to give up on him.

So, do you think it’ll be, as he says, Austin Rivers’ year? Let hear it in the comments.

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