ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced late last night that the Phoenix Suns will waive Austin Rivers shortly after acquiring him a trade also involving Kelly Oubre Jr. and Trevor Ariza. Normally, a below average player becoming available isn’t cause for much discussion, but in case you missed news, the New Orleans Pelicans have been in a bit of a quandary since losing Elfrid Payton to injury.
While not a true floor general, Rivers might be an option for a team with playoff hopes relying on a two-way contract player and Tim Frazier for the majority of minutes at point guard, after discovering Jrue Holiday needs help in the backcourt and Ian Clark and Frank Jackson failed to immediately seize the role when given the chance. Andrew Harrison has appeared in New Orleans last three contests, playing a season-high 14 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Frazier has started the last 10 games for Alvin Gentry, but the diminutive guard with holes in his arsenal has mixed a few solid performances with several forgettable showings.
Rivers is far from without his flaws though, yet he could possibly contribute in two key areas: facilitating drives and not be a sieve defensively on the perimeter. Rivers was averaging 5.1 drives with the Washington Wizards, but in his final season in Los Angeles, he led the Clippers with 12.4 drives a contest. Outside of Holiday and Payton, the Pelicans have no one else who can consistently break down opponents off the dribble.
On the defensive end, Rivers seems at least passable when he’s engaged and he has displayed an ability to guard three positions.
Now, I don’t think Austin is a stopper or anything. He’s still prone to lapses off-ball on occasion, and he isn’t super-versatile switching out on the perimeter. But he’s a mostly solid defender who can do a fine job on most guards, and can be placed on bigger players sometimes as long as they aren’t shot creators.
One other item worth highlighting is that Rivers has strictly morphed into a two-outcome scorer: shooting attempts only in the paint or behind the three-point line. Prior to landing in Washington, he averaged over 37% from deep in his last two seasons in Los Angeles, and he’s okay in catch-and-shoot situations.
Austin Rivers will never be confused with a great shooter, but he shot a respectable 37.5% from deep on catch and shoots with the Clippers last season (edged out Lou Williams' 36.8%) and this season with Wizards, 36.8% (higher than Beal, Wall, Porter, Oubre, Morris).— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) December 18, 2018
All that said, Rivers does carry baggage.
Reportedly, Chris Paul’s relationship with Doc started to deteriorate soon after the Clippers acquired the head coach’s son. Matt Barnes and Glen “Big Baby” Davis have also had issues with Austin in the past. Considering the Wizards were enamored in adding Trevor Ariza’s experience and work ethic, Austin’s three straight postseason trips were noticeably removed from a Washington roster at first chance since all of the highly publicized locker room problems came to light. And last but not least, the Phoenix Suns, who have been in search of point guard help for some time now, didn’t even give Rivers an opportunity to prove himself a possible future piece for their organization. Rebuilding teams often reason it’s important to keep some veterans around — and these Suns did sign Ariza and Jamal Crawford over the summer (plus hung onto Tyson Chandler for several years) — but Austin is a no-go and Phoenix cited River’s veteran presence would be better served elsewhere?
Ultimately, the only thing that matters at this point is how Dell Demps and Anthony Davis feel about Rivers. New Orleans roster is currently full with 15 members, but three players have unguaranteed contracts: Kenrich Williams, Jahlil Okafor and Tim Frazier. Do you jettison the developmental rookie, the reclamation project or one of AD’s best friends?
There’s not a clear answer in my eyes; thus, let’s not fully expect the Pelicans to jump at the chance to bring back a familiar face who could raise additional questions.