Name: Austin James Rivers
Key Stats: In 67 games - 21.9 minutes per game, 14.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals per 36 minutes, 43.8% from the field and 33.5% from the three-point line.
Years in the NBA: 4
2015-2016 Salary: $3,110,796
Future Contract Status: Player option for 2016-2017 (expected to opt out). Clippers have Bird Rights.
Summary: Always a lightning rod for controversy and nepotism accusations, Austin Rivers quietly had a very productive season. Though he was saddled with the burden of playing with a non-staggered second unit all season (a discussion for another time), he showed consistent effort, especially on the defensive end, and flashes of offensive excellence. He's never going to be the most efficient scorer, but I think he proved a lot of people wrong this season. He has absolutely earned a place in this league and it would appear that his only direction to go is up.
Strengths: His most notable strength has to be his pesky on-ball defense. He often frustrates opposing ball handlers with his disruptive style and it became clear throughout the year that he was able a capable enough defender to even spell Chris Paul against other teams' biggest offensive threats. On the offensive end, his aggression allows him to get into the lane easily and his finishing at the rim is markedly improved. That floater that Blake Griffin famously imitated actually found its way through the bottom of the hoop quite often this season and his confident demeanor makes him someone who can catch fire and ignite the rest of the team when energy is low.
Weaknesses: His offensive efficiency can leave quite a bit to be desired, as his jump shot is unreliable and he has a tendency to settle for contested looks. If he can improve on his three-point shooting to at least reach the league average (35.4% in 2015-2016) and try to cut back on difficult long-twos and threes, he could become a much more reliable offensive option. He also has a habit of over-dribbling, which, when combined with Jamal Crawford's similar predilection, can lead to some painfully stagnant second unit offense. I'd love to see him become better at passing out of the lane, as his slashing ability often forces the defense to collapse and leaves guys open around the perimeter. It'd be helpful if those guys could actually make shots at a respectable clip (ahem, Paul Pierce), but it'd be encouraging to see those assist numbers start to trend upwards. He isn't a traditional point guard, but he could make himself all the more valuable if he can work on his skill facilitating the offense with the second unit. It's a squad that is incredibly isolation-heavy and often has an every-man-for-himself style of play, but if Austin can pick and choose his spots to be an aggressor while moving the ball more, I believe he can become one of the more valuable subs in the league.
Future with the Clippers: Well, that's for his dad to decide. Because the Clippers have his Bird Rights, his contract will be allowed to exceed the limited amount of cap space that the team has headed into this offseason, thus making him an incredibly wise investment. At just 23 years old, Austin is still finding his game and, assuming he returns, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the Clippers most important reserve next season. Figuring out how to most effectively have him and Jamal play alongside one another is tricky and something that Doc must address, but ensuring that Austin is in a Clippers jersey to start next season is going to be one of the most important tasks of the coming months.
Favorite Moment as a Clipper: It's tough for me to designate such a bittersweet moment as my favorite, but it has to be Game 6 of the first round series against Portland. As a fan, I was devastated by the injuries that had all but ended our season, but the heart that Austin showed in what proved to be our final game gave me something to rally around and be proud of. Following a brutal elbow to the left eye midway through the first quarter that left him in a crumpled heap at the free throw line, the Clippers chances of forcing a Game 7 looked almost unfathomably bleak. That was until, 11 stitches and 12 minutes later, Austin returned. Though he could barely see out of his increasingly swollen and bruised eye, he finished with a line of 21 points-6 rebounds-8 assists and kept the Clippers in the game until the very end. People use the cliche "leaving it all out there" too often, but here it seems warranted, as this had to be one of the gutsiest NBA performances of the season. If you still have any doubts about how much this team means to him and how close a group it was, give his post-game presser a watch as well.