LA Clippers: Austin Rivers’ expectations as a starter

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 28: Austin Rivers
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 28: Austin Rivers /

In a recent interview, Austin Rivers confirmed that he will be the LA Clippers’ new starting shooting guard. Can fit the new role? The eye test tells a story statistics cannot.

Entering the 2017-18 season with a new-look backcourt rotation featuring Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosić and Lou Williams, Rivers will fill J.J. Redick’s starting spot at the 2 guard. It’s comforting, then, that Austin is coming off a season in which he improved in many traditional and advanced statistical categories relating particularly to shooting and scoring. It is, however, the eye test that gives Clippers fans the strongest indication that he can be a capable starter.

The Statistics

In a year in which Rivers averaged the most minutes (27.8) and usage rate (20.3%) of his career, his shooting improved. Rivers averaged the most points of his career (12) on the best field goal (44.2), 3 point (37.1), effective field goal (51.8) and true shooting (54.5) percentages during his time in the NBA. These are not eye-popping numbers, but are improvements nonetheless.

In addition to his improved 3 point percentage, Rivers scored 37.5% of his points through the long ball, and contributed nearly a quarter of the Clippers’ made 3-point shots – both career highs, but neither attention-grabbing league wide. In addition, Rivers averaged the most points in the paint (5.2) and fouls drawn (2.2) of his career. This indicates that Rivers is becoming more proficient at beating players off the dribble and finishing at the rim. It certainly appeared that way this season, with improved dribble moves leaving defenders a step behind. His free throw percentage (69.1%) continues to concern, but getting to the rim and drawing contact at higher rates is encouraging.

PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 29: Austin Rivers
PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 29: Austin Rivers /

The eye-test

The irony of the above picture is not lost on me, but it does paint a picture of what Rivers brings. While his statistics improved, they are not particularly impressive for a starting guard (when converted to per-36 numbers). Rivers does, however, leave it all on the court, night in and night out.

We could examine that night in Portland in isolation to illustrate the point here – Rivers hustles, Rivers fights, and Rivers wants to win. Badly. He is committed to improving and to doing everything he can to further this Clippers team. Rivers may not be the most gifted passer of his generation and he may not have the sweetest stroke the Clippers have ever seen, but once the ball is jumped up he works as hard as anyone. He chases his man around screens, he runs the floor in transition and seems to have the intangible ‘little things’ locked down.

In the new starting backcourt, Rivers will be paired with first team All-Defence guard Patrick Beverley. Pair this backcourt built on hustle with a dominant front court, sprinkle some much needed luck, and these Clippers could outperform expectations. If last season was any indication, Rivers should continue to improve, and I believe he can be a solid starter.