Throughout his 10-year career, Austin Rivers has had the uncanny ability to mold to his team's needs. With the Los Angeles Clippers, he was a scorer, reaching averages of 15 points per game. But as he nears his 30s with the Denver Nuggets, he has shifted to become a defensive specialist.
With Jamal Murray missing the entirety of the 2021-22 season, Rivers helped to provide necessary depth at a position of need. At 22.1 minutes per game, Rivers wasn't asked to be a heavy scorer or shooter, something he has done with success at other points in his career.
Rivers was asked to preserve his energy for the defensive end, where he could often be seen locking up the opposing team's best offensive guard. In the playoffs, when facing the three-headed monster of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole, head coach Michael Malone turned to Rivers as his go-to guard stopper.
The impact Rivers had on the Nuggets this season cannot be fully proven on the box score, but there's no doubt he made his mark.
Rivers' Season Timeline
Rivers signed a one-year contract with the Nuggets in the offseason after spending a portion of the 2020-21 season with the team. However, Rivers struggled out of the gates of this campaign.
In his first 11 games, he averaged just 13.7 minutes per night, scoring 1.7 points on 22.9% from the field and 11.8% from three. His fortunes would quickly change, though, after a 12-point outing against the Dallas Mavericks in 29 minutes of play.
Over his next handful of games, he was playing over 23 minutes per night and making threes at a rate of 35.5%. Unfortunately, he would miss the next eight games in the NBA's health and safety protocols.
But when he returned, his continued strong play as a backup combo guard. Between Dec. 17 and Jan. 28, he made a blistering 40.5% of his threes, securing himself a permanent spot in the Nuggets rotation in that span.
Rivers' season high came on Jan. 26 against the Brooklyn Nets, when he finished with 25 points and two steals on 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in a six-point victory.
The rest of the way, Rivers provided quality minutes defensively while still maintaining solid offensive numbers. Malone -- on several occasions -- expressed his belief in Rivers to do the dirty work on the defensive end for the Nuggets.
Which is why when their first round series against the Warriors came along, Malone openly stated that Rivers would play a massive role. And in Games 1-4, he averaged 26.0 minutes per game, with his primary focus being Curry.
In today's NBA, adaptability is a necessary trait. Rivers displayed that and more during his time with the Nuggets.
Facts and Figures
Rivers played 67 games for the Nuggets during the 2021-22 regular season, starting in 18 of them and averaging 22.1 minutes per contest. In that time, he finished with figures of 6.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on 41.7% from the field, 34.2% from three, and 72.7% from the free throw line.
Rivers also averaged 0.8 steals per game, the second-highest steal count of his career. He had his second-best defensive box plus minus in 10 seasons, while also continuing a streak of positive defensive win shares.