What Austin Rivers brings to the Denver Nuggets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets have long been considered to be one of the deeper teams in the NBA. Stacked with quality options in both the backcourt and frontcourt, Denver has relied on that depth in recent seasons to fuel regular-season success.

However, following Jamal Murray’s unfortunate left-knee injury and a hamstring strain suffered by Monte Morris, Denver found itself in a position where additional backcourt help would provide value.

Enter Austin Rivers.

Following a trade from the New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline, Rivers was waived by Oklahoma City and began to look for a new landing spot. Although the 28-year-old guard will have to compete with Facundo Campazzo, Will Barton III, Shaq Harrison and PJ Dozier for significant playing time, there is a path for Rivers to become a key part of the rotation for Denver during the course of his 10-day contract.

So what exactly are the Nuggets getting in Rivers? Let’s take a closer look.

Capable 3-point shooting and shot creation

Although Rivers has only appeared in 21 games this season with the Knicks, the 2020-21 campaign is shaping up to be the most efficient of his career (career-high 53.3 effective field-goal percentage).

Rivers is certainly a capable 3-point shooter, as he has shot over 35 percent from beyond the arc in three of the past four seasons, including 36.4 percent this season on 3.7 attempts per game.

Rivers’ ability to knock down those 3-point attempts has become a crucial component of his offensive game, as 3-point attempts have made up at least 53 percent of his overall shot attempts in each of the past three seasons.

Luckily for the former 10th overall pick, he should receive some of the best looks from deep playing in Denver alongside several capable playmakers. Rivers shot 35.4 percent on his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in New York this season, 36.4 percent on such attempts during the 2019-20 season, and 37 percent during the 2018-19 campaign.

If Rivers can replicate or even improve on those numbers in Denver, he should provide a nice boost offensively, especially when coupled with his ability to generate shots for himself and attack the paint.

If there’s one thing that Denver’s backcourt could benefit from, it’s a player that can get downhill and break down a defense through drives. Rivers certainly fits that bill, as he has typically relied on his shot creation throughout his career.

Just 26.3 percent of Rivers’ two-point field goals have been assisted throughout his career, highlighting his ability to generate offense for himself. Denver’s offense could certainly benefit from Rivers’ ability to get into the teeth of a defense and create drive-and-kick opportunities for off-ball shooters.

When Rivers does get inside the paint, he has also improved his finishing around the basket in recent seasons, which includes a career-high 70.8 percent from within three feet of the rim during his stint with the Knicks.

For a second unit that will have to generate offense without Jamal Murray leading the way, Rivers should fit in nicely by attacking and breaking down the defense with the ball in his hands.

Point of attack perimeter defense

Although not known as a lockdown defender, Rivers certainly competes on that end of the floor, using his 6’4” frame and lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter.

Although the advanced metrics haven’t painted a picture of Rivers having a dramatic impact on his team’s defense over the years, the veteran guard can hold his own defensively and has graded out as a positive on that end of the floor according to ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus (+.75) this season.

Pairing Rivers with Denver’s other backcourt options such as Campazzo or Barton III should create a dependable combination in the backcourt, especially against opposing second units. It’s also likely that as seen with Aaron Gordon since joining the Mile High crew, Rivers can lock in even more defensively in a reduced offensive role with the Nuggets.

It’s always difficult to project just how much of an impact an in-season free agency addition will have for a team. However, the fit for Rivers and the Nuggets makes a lot of sense on paper, as the playoff-tested guard immediately adds shot creation to Denver’s backcourt as the Nuggets look to navigate the post-Jamal Murray waters for the remainder of this 2020-21 season.

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