2013-14 Season in Review: Austin Rivers

Pelicans.com continues its look back at the 2013-14 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:

AUSTIN RIVERS
Age: 21
NBA experience: Two seasons with Pelicans
Games played/started: 69/4

2013-14 OVERVIEW

For a second straight season, Rivers entered the summer on a positive note, this time averaging 16.0 points over the Pelicans’ final four regular season games – including 8-for-15 three-point shooting – in arguably the finest week of his pro career. As a rookie, the combo guard was also playing his best basketball of the season when he suffered a broken hand that sidelined him for the final month-plus.

In his two seasons, Rivers has come a long way, showing improvements in numerous aspects of his game. Pelicans Coach Monty Williams has often noted that the Duke University product was one of the most criticized players in the league as a rookie, but many of those harsh assessments went away in 2013-14. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder was better in virtually every area statistically, even though his minutes per game actually dropped slightly, from 23.2 as a rookie to 19.4.

Rivers had well-documented difficulty completing plays in the lane and around the rim in Year 1 and made just 54.6 percent of his foul shots, but managed to improve his accuracy in all three shooting categories in 2013-14. He shot 40.5 percent from the field, 63.6 percent from the line and 36.4 percent on three-pointers.

“Austin’s a guy who we wanted to see improve his finishing at the basket and his free-throw shooting,” Williams said. “His free-throw shooting got better – not where we want it – but better. He’s a much better finisher at the basket than he was his first year. When you’re 20 or 21 years old, you have years to improve. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

A January season-ending injury to All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday elevated Brian Roberts to the starting lineup, but it also meant a much more prominent role for Rivers. He averaged 15.7 minutes prior to the All-Star break, but 24.5 afterward, including logging 30.0 minutes per game in April. Rivers contributed double-digit scoring in five of the team’s final six games, as well as in eight of his last 12 appearances.

Like many of his teammates, the Florida native received a greater opportunity to play than anticipated as a result of Pelicans injuries. Entering 2014-15, that additional experience and confidence could be the silver lining of the team’s myriad health problems.

“It’s huge, because now you’ve got a deeper team, more guys have confidence,” Rivers said. “As far as myself, finishing the season the way I did, it was huge. You go into the summer with a sense of confidence. I got an opportunity to play since the All-Star break. The last 30-something games, I got to play. It felt like I played the best basketball I ever had. I feel like a lot of guys just stepped up and our team as a whole continued to get better and better. We really just stuck with it. It seemed like nobody gave up. It seemed like everyone was focused on trying to finish the season strong, and that’s what we did.”

TOP THREE AUSTIN RIVERS GAMES OF 2013-14

#3: April 11, 2014 – New Orleans at Oklahoma City
Rivers’ first starting assignment of the season was no easy task, with him matched up against Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Although the severely undermanned Pelicans lost 116-94, Rivers played very well, notching 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

#2: April 12, 2014 – New Orleans at Houston
In the Pelicans’ final road game of the season, Rivers threatened a triple-double, posting season highs in both points (20) and rebounds (10), while also dishing out six assists. The Pelicans nearly pulled off the upset against the Rockets, who needed a late surge in the fourth quarter to grab a 111-104 win.

#1: April 16, 2014 – Houston at New Orleans
Rivers played a second straight stellar game against the Rockets, this time in the season finale, a 105-100 victory for the Pelicans. His all-around performance consisted of 18 points, five rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He was 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-5 on free throws.

Apr. 11 at Thunder

Apr. 12 at Rockets

Apr. 16 vs. Rockets