Pelicans Offseason Update: Austin Rivers

Leading up to the 2013 NBA Draft on June 27, will provide a player-by-player examination of the New Orleans Pelicans, with input from various sources. We’ll review the 2012-13 campaign of each New Orleans player who appeared in at least half of the team’s games, while also looking ahead to the inaugural 2013-14 Pelicans season. continues its offseason updates by profiling Austin Rivers, the team’s second lottery pick in last year’s draft:

Austin Rivers
Key averages: 6.2 points, 2.1 assists in 61 games (26 starts).

The 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the 20-year-old Rivers was immediately pressed into larger-than-anticipated duty, due to an injury to starting shooting guard Eric Gordon that kept Gordon sidelined until late December. As a result, Rivers started each of the first nine games of his NBA career. It was a rocky beginning to the Duke University product’s time in the pros, with the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder struggling to find consistency with his shooting touch, including at the foul line. He was also turnover-prone over the first few weeks of the season. From Jan. 5 through the end of 2012-13, however, Rivers was moved to a more appropriate role for a player who spent just one year in college. After starting in 22 of his first 31 appearances, he had four starts in the final 30 games. Rivers’ season came to an unfortunate end on March 6, when he broke his right shooting hand vs. the Lakers. In the weeks prior to the injury, however, he was undoubtedly playing his best basketball. In nine games following the All-Star break, Rivers shot 27-for-53 from the field (50.9 percent) and 4-for-10 from three-point range. Prior to that stretch, he shot 35.0 and 31.6 percent, respectively, in those categories.

Statistically, the Dec. 14 home game vs. Minnesota stands out as the best of Rivers’ rookie season – and it’s really not even close. He racked up 27 points against the Timberwolves, which was a dozen more than he scored in any other game. He was also a sparkling 5-for-6 from three-point range (he had more than two treys in only one other game). To top it off, he was perfect in four attempts from the foul line, an area he’ll focus on this summer after shooting 54.6 percent in 2012-13.

“I’m more comfortable now. Things went well toward the end (prior to a season-ending injury), and that’s the best way to go out. So next year you can pick up where you left off. That’s what I’ll remember. I don’t care about what happened earlier this year, whether I had a great game or a bad game. All I know is that the last month before I got hurt… I know how I can play. I want to even be way better than that. The biggest thing from this year was you figure out what you do well and how you can play. … Next year’s training camp I think is equal opportunity for everybody. We don’t have LeBron James or some superstar (that we can say) that’s our (superstar) player. Not after this year. Every position is open – that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m just going to go in there and compete. All of us are going to compete. That’s how our team is. I’m just excited.” – Austin Rivers “If you look at him from (training camp) until now, it’s like night and day. He still has a long way to go. He’ll be the first to admit that. He’s just going to get better. The guys who work hard and show toughness every day, and deal with all of that criticism the right way, the way he’s done it, you want them to succeed… Austin’s become a better student. A lot of times when young guys come into the league, they don’t want to hear it. Because everything they’ve done to this point has been successful. They get here and they’re like, ‘You want me to change what? I’ve been doing this my whole life.’ He’s learning. He’s a basketball junkie. (Sometimes) I don’t think it turns around for (rookies) until the summer. Guys take that summer jump. They get a few weeks off to process everything that happened. Your emotions are out of it, and you realize that Coach isn’t trying to kill you; he’s trying to help you get better. That’s when we’ll see if he can be what we think he can be, or if he’s just going to plateau. I think he’s going to get better.” - Monty Williams What changes did you see on the court in Austin Rivers in the weeks prior to his season-ending injury?

@A_Mende_20: We finally started to see him being more decisive and more aggressive, getting into the paint and making that little floater.

@shelbywmccarty: His defense. Didn’t hesitate when driving. Finished at much higher clip.

@cdude9590: He started finishing at the rim and became a solid defender.

@berlinhornets: His defense became sneakily good at the end.