It’s amazing what a difference two days makes. On Sunday, Austin Rivers looked like a smart, buy-low acquisition for father-coach-GM Doc Rivers after Austin scored 16 points in 17 minutes, going 7-8 from the field. Tuesday, however, Rivers fell back to Earth and gave us a level of performance we’ve come to expect from the NBA legacy kid, shooting 1-4 from the field in 12 minutes of playing time. For the most part in his NBA career, Rivers has been a mediocre, end-of-the-bench guard whose field goal percentage hovers at just above 40 percent.
Normally, Rivers’s saving grace to justify his place on an NBA roster is his defense. But last night, after being brought in for defensive purposes down one with 30 seconds on the clock, Rivers missed his assignment and left Danny Green wide open behind the three-point line. When covering Danny Green, you have one job: don’t let him get a wide-open three. Luckily for Rivers, Green missed, but it wasn’t the only missed assignment for Rivers down the stretch.
In the final seconds of the game, with the Clippers down two, Green missed his second free throw, and Rivers failed to finish the box out on Green, who helped keep alive the miss before Kawhi Leonard grabbed the key offensive rebound that prevented the Clippers from having an opportunity to tie up the game. It’s moments and games like these that show why the Boston Celtics had little plan to keep the young guard around after acquiring him in the deal that involved Jeff Green.
The desire to not keep Rivers was made very public by the Celtics when they traded for him. Talks soon began with Doc and the Clippers, and a third team in the Phoenix Suns entered the discussions as well. When it was all said and done, Doc gave up Reggie Bullock, Chris Douglas-Roberts and a second round pick in a three-team trade to get Rivers. It wasn’t much, but it was still something for a player that wasn’t wanted by Boston.
Rivers’s draft pedigree and name are how you justify taking a flier on him. An objective person could certainly justify giving up such a small amount of assets for a former first-round pick. For now, he’s the best the Clippers can do as a fourth guard, but the problem lies more in the optics of the situation than the issue of Rivers’s value as a player.
Even if Doc made the right basketball move to buy low on a player with a small chance of being a solid rotation guard, every time he puts him in the game, or draws up plays for him, the other guys in that locker room are going to wonder at least a little about whether Doc is doing a little bit more than he should to keep his son relevant in the NBA. If Austin Rivers is seeing more playing time going forward after playing like he did last night, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the players in that locker room start wondering a little bit more.