LA Clippers: Yes, Austin Rivers can play, and he’s improved

Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LA Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LA Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite all of the heavy criticism he receives (some of which is justified), Austin Rivers is a fine NBA role player, and he’s continuing to improve for the LA Clippers.

Austin Rivers is only playing because of his dad” is possibly the most tiresome criticism I’ve heard now. LA Clippers fans paying attention to the details will surely (hopefully) agree. Yet such remarks are thrown around in Facebook comment sections and in the angrier sections of Clippers Twitter like Chuck The Condor merchandise that no one wants at Staples Center.

We’ve heard it so many times, or simply that Austin Rivers is a “terrible basketball player,” or “trash”. And sure, he isn’t great. He isn’t the best backup point guard in the NBA or anything of that caliber. He entered the league in 2012 and as the 10th overall pick to the then New Orleans Hornets, subsequently disappointed as he struggled to find a role and shoot no more than 37.2 percent from the floor as a rookie.

He endured similar hardships going forward, but he’s established now with the Clippers. And while you may not like to admit it if you’ve been swept up in the easy jokes that throw around his name with negativity 90 percent of the time, he’s been taking some steps forward over the last two seasons that warrant some attention and respect for the fact that he is actually a decent role player.

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Partly thanks to receiving 10 starts this season and boosting his minutes during the absence, Rivers is now averaging career-highs almost across the board in points (10.8), assists (2.4), steals (0.8), made threes per game (1.4), three-point percentage (40.3), and True Shooting Percentage (54.7). It’s those last three numbers that particularly jump out, as becoming a notable three-point threat is something that Rivers has always needed to really make an impact for someone who you don’t want to consistently give the reigns to running your entire offense. If he can space the floor and help a Clippers team from three that doesn’t have as many efficient marksman as you might think, that’s huge.

He’s been doing that for some time now, too. And as impressive as it is that he’s raised his percentage to 40.3 on more attempts than ever this year, his success dates well back into last season. In fact, through his final 40 games of last season, Rivers shot 39.7 percent from three with 1.2 makes in 21.9 minutes per game.

For a while now, he’s been a steady weapon from deep, even if he has his streaky moments and won’t hit seven threes too often as he did in a 25-point performance against the Orlando Magic a few weeks ago:

Believe it or not, Rivers has been one of the most efficient spot-up players in the NBA this season. He ranks in the 96th percentile in spot-ups, also sitting sixth place in the league among players who have attempted at least 75 such shots with 1.32 points per possession (per When he doesn’t need to control the ball as much if Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are around, that’s a dangerous weapons for the Clippers to utilize.

Correcting that concern, where Rivers had shot 32.9 percent from three over his first four years, is a major bonus for the Clippers’ offense. However, when Rivers can partner that with aggressive drives, he can really make the most of his skill set to take players off the dribble and provide extra penetration. He’s shooting a fairly impressive 48.1 percent on drives this season and hasn’t hesitated to attack with 3.6 per game, which comfortably leads all Clippers (per

As you can see in his performance above, he has a terrific first step to attack off the dribble. And with an improved three-point percentage to warrant closer attention at the arc, it’s easier to blow past defenders when they press him closely and don’t back off.

Again, to kick off January with a bang, Rivers dropped a season-high 28 points and seven assists to lead the Clippers’ in a terrific 115-106 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, despite having no Paul or Griffin.

Now, to add another strong performance to his hot start to 2017, Rivers scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting (4-of-7 from three) with six rebounds and two assists in the Clippers’ win against the Sacramento Kings.

In Chris Paul’s return, Rivers still stepped up to help carry the scoring load in the continued absence of Griffin. In fact, since Griffin was ruled out with knee surgery on December 20th, Rivers has averaged 15 points over those 11 games.

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Of course, this isn’t the Rivers that shows up every night. His 20.3 points per game average in January won’t continue for much longer, and consistency and decision making are still issues that bother him at times. He’ll still get tunnel vision at moments and hurl layups through traffic that never stood much chance of going in, or get too confident and take the occasional step-back three that you’d rather not see. He isn’t the most clinical backup floor general either.

However, the point is that he’s now a role player who can provide a positive, energizing impact off the bench, spotting up efficiently from three when he isn’t controlling the ball, or creating penetration for a second unit that needs it.

He’s doing pretty much everything better than ever this season and the three-point shooting is huge for his role, especially now he’s been hovering at 40 percent for quite some time. Whenever he’s engaged he’s a dependable, quick, energetic defender as well, he can make a healthy two-way impact. He took a major step forward last season as a defender, and even though he’s been swept up in lacklustre play of the team as a whole during stretches this season, he’s typically the team’s best defensive guard outside of Chris Paul.

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Yes, he’s learning to work on his decision making and playing to his strengths, but Austin Rivers is a solid role player and has proven that he can genuinely help these LA Clippers. So, if you’re one of the anti-Rivers critics, harping on about him being a “daddy’s boy,” move on to something else. It’s old. And more to the point, it’s inaccurate.