Erik Olsgaard: A-
I expected Austin to be a B-, a solid if unspectacular bench player that occasionally has his moments, but is otherwise forgettable and replaceable. Instead, he's completely blossomed this year, so much so that I now actually believe his three-pointers are going to go in when he releases the ball--his 40% shooting from deep seems to be the real deal. His first step has always been fast, but it's his pacing that's completely changed. He no longer rushes, but now patiently probes the defense until he finds his opening. He's not an all star, of course, but he could start for at least 2/3 of the teams in the NBA, and that is not something I saw coming. That leads to an A- for Austin, much of which was earned for his drastic improvement.
James Nisky: B+
- 12 points per game in 28 minutes per game, although he’s started 25 games, and when he starts his points per game increase to approximately 18.
- Love the 40% on 3 point field goals, but would like to see a bit more efficiency otherwise, considering he’s only 44% from the field and 68% from the free throw line.
Austin looks like a much more effective NBA player this year, and numbers don’t tell the whole story. He’s a generally effective, versatile perimeter defender, and his ability to finish at the rim—surprising as this is to some—is one of the best in the league. Look at Austin for what he is, a mid-sized slashing scoring guard in the spirit of a Michael Jordan or Dwayne Wade, though not as naturally gifted as those players, obviously. Austin has been unfairly miscast as a point guard, and most of the perceived deficiencies in his game can be explained by his playing out of position out of roster necessity. He has made important contributions in many wins and has played 3 positions at various points of the season. Austin was a top 10 pick, so expectations are high, but at 24 years old he’s turning into a legitimate starting 2-guard.
Kenneth Armstrong: B+
His three point shooting has been a nice surprise and he is averaging a career high in assists (although still only 3 per game). Most importantly, he has helped the Clippers avoid a sustained free fall by taking on a bigger role, starting about half of the Clippers' games so far. The experience and confidence he is getting now also might prove to be valuable during a playoff run.
Davey Bales: A
What is more telling of this guy's growth and production than the fact that he's the centerpiece in a rumored trade for perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony and that the Knicks may actually be listening? Anyone who still makes nepotism cracks at Rivers' expense clearly hasn't watched any Clippers basketball this year because his durability and across-the-board offensive improvement has made him one of the few sure things in a tumultuous season for the Clips. Since being forced into the starting lineup, he's scoring and assisting at career-high rates, and most importantly he's doing it highly efficiently (46.0% FG, 42.2% 3P). A minor regression defensively keeps me from giving him an A+, but the Clippers would truly be in a world of trouble if not for Austin Rivers (I still can't believe I just wrote that).
Max Jeffrey: B+
Austin Rivers has exceeded the expectations of critics and believers alike. While many will continue to regurgitate the coach’s son narrative ad nauseam, those who actually watch the Clippers on a regular basis understand why he’s become so important. Rivers has become a capable two-way threat this season, being tasked with guarding as many as three different positions. Since becoming a Clipper, Rivers has been able to increase his minutes each season whilst increasing his overall efficiency. His current per-game averages, partially due to his expanded role in Chris Paul’s absence, include 12.2 points, 3.0 assists, 2.1 rebounds all while shooting 44.1% from the field and 39.9% from behind the arc. His combination of youth, team-friendly contract, and overall improvement have made him a possible trade commodity heading into the February 23rd deadline.
Robert Flom: A-
Austin Rivers is having a career year on the offensive side of the ball, hitting just under 40% of his three point shots, and upping his scoring to 12.2 per game, both by far career highs. Scoring more and at a higher efficiency is a big leap, and Austin deserves all the credit in the world for putting in work on that end. He is now a high-level bench guard, and at least a capable fill-in at starter. The reason this grade isn’t higher is that he’s still too inconsistent and prone to silly mistakes to really be a starting level player, and his defense has slipped since last season. This is common as players take on more offensive responsibilities, but it is a bit disappointing to see from Austin, who has made his name over the past couple years on that end. While not quite part of the Clippers core, Austin has become the 5th best player on the roster, and he still has room to improve.
What grade would you give Austin Rivers? Let us know in the comments section!