Austin Rivers brings more than father-son narrative to Clippers


May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) shoots the ball during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most overplayed narratives when it comes to Austin Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers is his father-son relationship with head coach Doc Rivers. Sure, his bursts of playoff brilliance would have made his old man proud, but Austin has far more to offer.

During his sudden spells of confident scoring and second unit energy during the playoffs, the constant, overused storyline was that Austin Rivers’ performance was bringing the Clippers’ father-son team closer together. That Doc could enjoy the success of his son as not just a coach, but as a proud father.

That’s nice and all, and emotion helps to make basketball the spectacle it is. Yet it’s hardly all there is to what Austin can bring to the Clippers as a player. Not just as the younger half of a family duo.

After his brief moments of playoff stardom against the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, Austin Rivers proved, at long last, how he’s starting to grow as a player. Even if he did so inconsistently.

This season was the best of his young, three year career. After joining the Clippers at the start of this year, Rivers has managed to continue his growth as the hopeful backup to superstar point guard Chris Paul. With the perennial All-Star holding down the starting spot and most of the minutes available, Rivers only needed to contribute 19.3 minutes per game in L.A. this season. Despite averaging the fewest minutes of his career, though, Rivers managed to improve multiple aspects of his game, before showcasing them with several big playoff performances.

With the Clippers this season, Rivers had career highs in field goal percentage (42.7), two point field goal percentage (47.3), rebounds per 36 minutes (3.8), steals per 36 minutes (1.4) and turnover percentage (10.5). And whilst there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly with his three point shooting (30.9) and free throw shooting (58.2), it’s safe to say that his development is only just hitting full stride.

Largely, it’s because of his new found confidence.

After struggling to continue his college success into the NBA and never truly filling his role in New Orleans, Austin Rivers appeared to be somewhat of a letdown. And when Doc Rivers bought his son to L.A., it was often perceived as a move made due to personal reasons rather than professional ones.

However, now that he’s on a team with excellent influences to learn from (a perk that has only increased with the offseason acquisition of Paul Pierce), Austin Rivers’ confidence is reaching a level that can turn him into a valuable backup point guard to help give the Clippers’ the second unit flare they need to contend.

One aspect of a player’s offense that relies heavily on confidence, as well as athleticism and skill, is attacking the basket. For a skinny, 6’4″ guard like Rivers, you need aggression and confidence to drive into the lane and go against imposing 7 footers to come away with a basket. And after recording a career best shooting mark from within three feet (63.4) whilst with the Clippers, Rivers’ will to attack rather than turn the ball over or shoot from the perimeter is a welcome change.

Especially when that same will to attack resulted in three playoff performances of 16 points or more (a total which he reached just five times in 76 games during the entire regular season).

In the first round against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Rivers come out of nowhere to score 16 points on 87.5 percent shooting in a pivotal game four, as the Clippers were down 2-1. It took everyone by surprise and the internet went ballistic when one of the most unsuspected players became on of the most unbelievable playoff heroes.

The Clippers won 114-105 to tie the series 2-2, and Austin Rivers was vital. Yet the main narrative in the news following the game was that Doc Rivers had a chance to be proud of his son, rather than much discussion simply acknowledging what he did as a member of the Clippers.

Then, in the second round against the Houston Rockets (before the Clippers’ shocking collapse), Rivers came out firing with 17 points and 4 steals in the series opener as L.A. won 117-101, before adding 25 points on 76.9 percent shooting in game three to capture a 2-1 lead. And in addition to those two performances, he even scored in double digits for the first four games of the series.

Which, if you’re a Clippers fan, you know isn’t a streak you see to often from Austin Rivers.

May 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) is greeted at the bench by head coach Doc Rivers against the Houston Rockets during the second half in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

His 25 point game was thrilling to watch. Not just because most 25 point playoff performances are entertaining, but because it was Austin Rivers dealing the damage. He’s been the end of too many jokes as a supposed NBA failure, or that Doc was wrong to bring him on-board.

Three big games helped change that, though.

Obviously he followed up his startling streak with three games of shooting less than 30 percent as the Clippers blew their 3-1 series lead against the Rockets and went home empty handed (again), but for a brief moment, Rivers proved what he could do.

Although it wasn’t enough to stop the constant father-son conversation about how he made Daddy proud, Austin Rivers used the postseason to indicate what’s to come. He still performed on an inconsistent basis and he was still a part of the Clippers’ demise, yet people still failed to look past his relationship with Doc.

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As is the case in television, people can make a show out of anything. And for Austin and Doc, the show created by the media is the story of their father-son bond and how it changes, rather than their successes as a coach and a player.

It’s normally just trivial and tiresome, and misses the point of how the young point guard can actually make a difference in the Clippers’ future.

He’s far from his potential, but as he continues to learn under the leadership of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and even veteran point guard Pablo Prigioni, that shouldn’t be the case for much longer.

Yes, he can be inconsistent and inefficient. However, the playoffs revealed (no matter how briefly) what he’s capable of. And now that he’s finally gaining the confidence to utilize his skills and athleticism effectively, it’s time to realize his genuine potential to emerge as a key role player on a championship contender.

Because he’s far more than just Doc’s kid.

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