Austin’s Hot Shooting

Austin Rivers’ Long-Range Shooting Soars With Repetition & Tweaks

LOS ANGELES – Two scars, roughly a centimeter or two apiece, below and to the side of Austin Rivers’ left eye remain almost a year later. They’re the only remnants of his most defining moment as an NBA player.

It took at least a month, as he remembers it, for the blood vessels to die down from a ruby red back to normal after Game 6 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs, then another few weeks for the cuts that required seven stitches below and four stitches above his eye to repair following Al-Farouq Aminu’s inadvertent elbow to the face.

“I didn’t really realize how serious it was until I looked in the mirror after the game and I was like, ‘I can’t believe I just played with that,’” Rivers said. “I just knew nothing was going to keep me from coming on that floor.”

The rest was history, as Rivers, still bleeding off and on through the sutures the rest of the night, returned to the court a quarter later and busted out with 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds, nearly willing the Clippers to a Game 7, despite playing without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

“For him as a player and him personally, I think that was the coming out party for him,” Wesley Johnson said before this season. “You saw it, the way he played.”

The whole world did. His most courageous game also happened to be one of his most successful, marking the first time in his NBA career he scored at least 20 points while dishing out at least eight assists, and it all happened on a national stage.

“I always kind of say with him, ‘Just stick your landing.’ When he shoots the ball, now he’s shooting the ball knowing he’s got a great opportunity to make it if he uses all the mechanics we worked on for the last year and a half.” – Sam Cassell

Rivers often prefers to avoid his mentions on social media. But that night, his bruised and bloodied face serving as the lasting symbol of a perseverant, shorthanded Clippers team that fought to the final seconds before falling just short, he couldn’t help but notice more respect.

“I think people just haven’t really gotten a chance to know me or see me,” Rivers said two months after the game. “Perception’s everything in this world.

“When you’re in the public eye, you’re going to have people who hate you and people who love you. For whatever reason, I think that night…I think they saw, ‘Man this guy’s a true hooper, he really does get after it.’ I’m not some badass who does crazy things, it’s just simply I love the game of basketball and I’m willing to do anything to win. I think people saw that and respected that. In that matter, I think it changed a lot.”

But, he knew that game and that experience wouldn’t mean anything if he didn’t build off it.

Up and down

Rivers’ self-confidence rarely ebbs and flows, but his shooting percentages have throughout the early portion of his career, particularly from behind the arc.

Both his field goal percentage and 3-point percentage jumped significantly from year one to year two, but in his third season – split between the Pelicans and Clippers in 2014-15 – the former category continued to climb while the latter dipped drastically.

He joined the Clippers in January 2015, and, not long after, compiled a 10-game stretch shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from long distance. That varied radically from his 10 games prior, when he shot 27.9 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from long distance, and his 10 games after, going 22.7 percent from deep.

The offensive rollercoaster would continue. By the end of that season, Rivers shot a career-high 40.9 percent from the field but a career-low 29.8 percent from 3-point range.

Last year, it started with much of the same.

Rivers went through a stretch in the middle of November 2015 scoring in double figures five straight games, going 48 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from long distance; but prior to that was a five-game stretch in which he shot 10 percent from long range, and from Nov. 20 to Dec. 28, Rivers made just four 3-pointers.

Then, another breakout.

Hot streak. Cold stint. Hot streak. Cold stint.

Rivers could get to the rim at will, but there was a reason for the ups and downs from long distance, and Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell knew it.

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“Stick your landing”

Through it all, Rivers always found ways onto the floor with a newfound pride in his defense after joining the Clippers. It was on that side of the floor he garnered the most praise, giving Paul occasional breaks from having to follow around the best point guards in the league.

On the other end, Cassell and assistant players skills coach J.P. Clark worked with Rivers both in-season and offseason to make his shot more consistent.

“He wanted it to go in,” Cassell said. “He’s a very confident player as a young guy.”

That’s never been an issue for him.

Rivers always oozes self-confidence, and his belief in his abilities helped him to – at different points in the 2015-16 season – pour in 26 points against Philadelphia, 32 points in Oklahoma City and 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in Game 6 in Portland.

“He competes really hard, plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Paul said. “You can see his growth. He’s gotten better every year he’s been here.”

But it was the consistency he was searching for, and late last year he started to find it.

Bouncing back from that rough stint in December 2015, Rivers exploded during a four-game stretch, shooting 60.9 percent from the field and knocking down 11 3-pointers while going 64.7 percent from behind the arc and averaging 18.3 points per game.

As the season continued, something started to click.

“I just think the thing that he’s improved with is his setup,” Cassell said. “I always kind of say with him, ‘Just stick your landing.’ When he shoots the ball, now he’s shooting the ball knowing he’s got a great opportunity to make it if he uses all the mechanics we worked on for the last year and a half.”

The streakiness began to level out, and the high points were so substantial, that his averages skyrocketed. In 21 regular season games post-All-Star break, Rivers shot 43.8 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, averaging 10.6 points per game in 22.3 minutes per game.

It was also around that time, Rivers remembered, he started ramping up his shooting with J.J. Redick. But the work needed to be more demanding, more consistent and more repetitive for the results to last.

So, he went into this past offseason narrowing in on 3-point shooting, with plenty of help from Cassell and his assistant coaches.

“There were times my arms hurt at the end of the day,” Rivers said. “It was just ‘shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.’”

Joining J.J.

For him to develop any sort of reliable steadiness, that work couldn’t end when the Clippers reported to training camp. In years past, he said he often elected for rest over repetition once returning to the team.

“But it’s year-round now,” Rivers said. “When the season comes, I continue to have a routine now where I’m getting shots up.”

To figure out that routine, Rivers had one of the league’s best resources.

He watched Redick, one of the most regimented players on the team, and the amount of practice time the Clippers’ leading 3-point shooter put into perfecting his long-range shot, getting multiple shots up from every spot on the perimeter.

Former Clippers forward Matt Barnes used to join Redick in that routine, and Rivers started to do the same last year.

“Matt was traded,” Redick said, “and I needed a shooting partner.”

It’s now a constant before every practice and at shootaround, with Rivers and Redick trading catch-and-shoot 3s.

Rivers believes his work with Redick is one of the main reasons his 3-point percentage sits at a career-high 40.1 percent halfway through the 2016-17 season. He continues to pick up where he left off at the end of last year, now averaging a career-high 10.8 points per game, and Redick doesn’t think that’s a coincidence.

“You get your confidence from your reps and your preparation,” Redick said. “This season is a testament to that, for sure.”

It’s also a testament to better mechanics, according to Cassell. Before the shot goes up, Cassell said Rivers is in a better position to shoot, and he’s powering through every shot.

“His lower body is so strong,” Cassell said. “Once he put that into his shot, you see the results now.”

When Austin misses from deep, Cassell quizzes him on why it happened. Too often last year, Cassell said he’d flick the shot up with either no follow through or without sticking the landing. Now, Rivers knows what the issue is every time he misses.

Another part of it, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers believes, is simply getting better looks.

That’s particularly been the case in 11 starts. The Clippers found something in their three-guard lineups, which they were forced to resort to after injuries to Paul and Griffin. That’s benefited Austin, who’s shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent behind the arc as a starter.

In particular, he’s excelling in catch-and-shoot situations behind the arc, connecting on 44.3 percent and hitting nearly one per game, “sticking the landing” on most occasions. .

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“You could tell the confidence now with his teammates,” Doc said, “because they’re looking for him.”

Five of Austin’s 11 career games with at least four 3-pointers have come in the first half of this season. In each of those five games, he’s shot better than 57 percent from long distance.

In addition, five of his 16 career games scoring at least 20 points (regular season and playoffs) happened this year, including three since Christmas.

“After a while, it wasn’t like, ‘All right, you’re hot today,’” Austin said. “It’s like, ‘No, I can shoot.’”

The inconsistency that marred his game in past seasons is slowly diminishing, shooting better than 35 percent from 3-point range each of the last three months, January included.

But he knows there’s more work to be done.

At just 24 years old – something that’s easy to forget after five seasons in the league – he still might be in the development stage of his career, and those just seeing him up close for the first time are surprised at how much more he can do than they initially realized.

“Being on his team, I respect his game more,” said Marreese Speights. “You play him once or twice a year – maybe four times in the West – but he’s got more to his game that a lot of people don’t really see.”

“Being on his team, I respect his game more,” said Marreese Speights. “You play him once or twice a year – maybe four times in the West – but he’s got more to his game that a lot of people don’t really see.”

Even Paul, who’s watched Austin develop the last few years, said he believes the young guard is just now “coming into his own.”

For Austin to prove last season’s finish and his Game 6 performance weren’t anomalies, it’s all about consistency. But he’s much more concerned with playing defense, getting to the rim and working on his shot than worrying about what others think.

“I can only be myself,” Austin said. “But I'm happy where I'm at.”