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Clippers Free Agent Retrospective: Austin Rivers


Key Clipper Facts

  • First NBA player to be coached by his father (Doc Rivers).
  • Played four seasons with the Clippers (2014-15 through 2017-18).
  • Has appeared in 23 career playoff games (six starts), all with the Clippers.
  • In June, was traded by the Clippers to the Washington Wizards for center Marcin Gortat.
  • Will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season.

Expectation

Simple. Don’t suck.

Reality

He didn’t suck. Anyone who says he did, clearly wasn’t watching.

Rivers was plagued by nepotism rumors throughout his time in Los Angeles. He was acquired as part of a three-team deal negotiated by his father, Clippers head coach and then GM Doc Rivers, in January 2015. The skepticism surrounding the deal was understandable. After New Orleans picked him 10th overall in the 2012 draft, Rivers struggled in his first three seasons. Averaging just 6.9 points and 2.3 assists in 21.4 minutes per game, Rivers was nothing to write home about. His arrival in Los Angeles was a topic of passionate debate, with many fans and pundits doubtful that he would contribute anything useful to the Clippers’ franchise.

During the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Rivers averaged around 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, consistent with his meh performance in New Orleans. Although he showed great energy off the bench, it was often overshadowed by his inconsistency and immaturity. Given these issues, many fans were understandably perplexed when the Clippers re-signed Rivers to a three-year deal worth $35.7 million in July 2016. The cries of nepotism flared up again.

Off-season work with Sam Cassell and J.J. Redick before the 2016-17 season paid off for Rivers, whose field goal percentage improved from 43.8 percent to 44.2 percent and three-point percentage jumped from 33.5 percent to 37.1 percent. Rivers’ confidence and ability to finish at the rim were particularly upgraded. He finished the season with a then career-high of 12 points and 2.8 assists per game. Not bad for the shoot-first combo guard.

During the 2017-18 season Rivers averaged career highs of 15.1 points, 4.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting a career-high .378 (136-360) from three-point range in 61 games (including 59 starts). He had some really stellar offensive performances during the season, logging 12 games of 20+ points, three games of 30+ points, and setting a new career high with 38 points against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 22, 2018 (one night after scoring 36 against the Rockets in Houston).

Talk as much smack as you want about Rivers, but he developed into a legitimate NBA-caliber option for the Clippers and pulled them out of the proverbial fire with his irrational confidence and grit on many occasions. He may never be considered an All-Star level guard, but he has hustle and swagger and is not afraid to work. There is something to be said for that.

Legacy

Austin has given Clipper fans so many great moments, a few of which I note below. However, I think his primary legacy is that of a playoff hero. His performances in the 2015 and 2016 NBA playoffs are the stuff of legends.

1. Love him or hate him …

Rivers is one of the most divisive players in the NBA. People either love him or hate him. The poor guy could not even get consistent love from Angelenos. On September 19, 2016, Rivers threw out the first pitch at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ home game against the San Francisco Giants. He was booed by the hometown crowd.

Loudly.

2. Technicals run in the family.

During a loss to the Rockets on December 30, 2016, Austin and Doc Rivers were ejected within 25 seconds of each other. Austin made contact with a referee, got teed up and then ejected. Doc called a time-out to complain to the referee and also ended up getting tossed. Good times.

3. Even when injured, Austin had impact.

Rivers was the reported catalyst for the now infamous January 16, 2018 locker room showdown between the Clippers and Rockets at the Staples Center. The Rockets’ players were allegedly irritated by Rivers’ belligerent heckling from the bench in the late stages of the Clippers’ victory against Houston, a game for which Rivers did not even suit up.

For the whole, and historically accurate story:

4. He’s a goddamn Playoff Hero.

Rivers SHOWED UP at playoff time. These two contests are particularly noteworthy.

  • Game 3 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets:

In a highly emotional and career-best playoff game, Rivers scored 15 of his 25 points in the third quarter to lift the Clippers past Houston, 124-99. TNT’s Wired segment caught a nice moment between then-Clipper Chris Paul and Doc regarding Austin’s noteworthy performance.

  • Game 6 of the 2016 first-round playoff series against Portland:

Disadvantaged by the absences of Paul and Blake Griffin due to injuries, Rivers nearly willed the Clippers to victory with his passionate play. After a first quarter collision with Al-Farouq Aminu caused Rivers to require 11 stitches, he returned to the game, eye swollen shut, to finish with 22 points and 8 assists. Unfortunately the Clippers fell to the Trail Blazers 106-103 and were eliminated from the playoffs

Given how much he left on the floor, Rivers’ emotional post-game interview was painful to watch.

Rivers is a fighter – no doubt about it. He may not have been the best fit in Los Angeles, and playing for his father may have cast a shadow over his relative successes, but he undoubtedly played a meaningful part in the franchise’s recently history. I think he only gets better from here.

The Wizards are lucky to have him.

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