Name: Austin Rivers
Key Stats: 12.0 points/2.2 rebounds/2.8 assists on 44.2% overall shooting, 37.1% three-point shooting, and 69.1% free throw percentage (2.6 attempts per game) in 27.8 minutes per game, 74 games played (29 starts)
Years in NBA: 5
2016-2017 Salary: $11,000,000
Contract Status: Year 1 of 3 year / $35 million (3rd year is a player option)
Summary: While his season was frustratingly shortened by injury at the end, it was a productive year in the development of Austin Rivers. What is perhaps often overlooked is just how young Austin Rivers is: at age 24 he is only one year older than Buddy Hield. That is the same Buddy Hield that was the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans. Hield was good enough to convince the Kings to part with Cousins, settle for what will likely be an early mid-first round draft pick, and take the unappealing contract of Tyreke Evans. Sure, Buddy Hield makes considerably less money than Austin, but what teams care about is the potential. In his rookie year Hield averaged a meager 10.6 points/3.3 rebounds/1.5 assists a game on 42.6% field goal and 39.1% three-point shooting; though he his line with Sacramento was better (15.1/4.1/1.8 on 48%/42.8%). These numbers are not that much different than Austin’s last year. So not only is Austin Rivers the Clippers’ best (and perhaps only real) young asset, but Austin is probably more valuable than what the average Clippers’ fan thinks.
Strengths: As Austin is a shooting-oriented guard, it’s no surprise that his greatest contribution is scoring. Austin has become an efficient scorer after starting his career as a below-average (inefficient) shooter. This was his first year with an effective field goal percentage above 50% (51.8%). Part of the reason is that he improved his shot selection. This is best highlighted by the reduction of his long-range jumpers (defined as 16 feet or further two-point shots) from being 12% of his shots last year to merely 5.5% this year. Instead Austin shot more three-pointers (40.9% of his shots; up from last year’s 35,9%) and still managed to improve his three-point shooting percentage (37.1% this year from 33.5% last year).
Weaknesses: For whatever reason, Austin Rivers has never been a good free throw shooter. He is a career 65.1% shooter and his 69.1% last year wasn’t exactly that much better either. This is notable for a couple reasons. First, as Austin sees his role increase, he becomes a liability. In late game situations teams would be pretty content to foul him and put him at the line compared to Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, or even Blake Griffin. Second, the Association has its free throw percentages at an all-time high. The 2016-2017 league average was 77.2%. That beat the 77.1% of 2008-2009 and 1973-1974 that were the previous highs dating back to the 1946-1947 season. It would be nice to see Austin get his free throw percentage to at least 75% as soon as possible, but fans will probably be content to see him at least crack the 70% mark next year for the first time.
Future with Clippers: Austin is under contract for at least one more year. Thereafter he can opt out and if he continues to play as he did this year, he should/will opt out for a better contract.
With the Clippers, he should at least be the first guard off the bench because his production, both offensively and defensively, is simply more efficient than Jamal Crawford. But if you believe that J.J. Redick will sign elsewhere this off-season (and it’s looking more likely so after the report that Redick is seeking $18-20 million/year), Austin may be an option to be the starting shooting guard for the Clippers next year. Austin’s individual numbers as a starter in general this year were better as he shot 45.8% from the field and 42% from three as a starter compared to 42.6%/31.7% as a reserve. (But the debate of whether starting Jamal Crawford or Austin Rivers is something that we can dive into in-depth during this off-season.)
Another possibility for Austin is being trade bait. The talk of Carmelo Anthony coming to the Clippers has not subsided and will only get more persistent when the off-season kicks into full-gear. Phil Jackson has only fanned the flames of rumors with his public comments – most recently saying that Carmelo should waive his no-trade clause so he could be traded to a championship contending team. (It’s frankly amazing how blatant Phil talks about trading Carmelo.) The Clippers are a logical landing spot for Carmelo. Carmelo is close friends with Chris Paul and the Clippers are probably one of few teams that could convince Carmelo to waive his no-trade clause. As discussed before, a package for Carmelo would inevitably include Austin Rivers for both salary and being the prize return for the Knicks. The question that probably remains is whether the Clippers will truly want to trade for Carmelo. The answer may depend on what veterans are available for minimum contracts to fill out the rest of the Clippers’ roster/bench.