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NBA PM: Don’t Sleep on Austin Rivers
Posted By Alex Kennedy On July 17, 2013 @ 5:14 pm In NBA Summer League | No Comments
Austin Rivers knows that the New Orleans Pelicans’ backcourt is stacked. He’s the first to admit that the players potentially ahead of him on the depth chart such as Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon are “monsters” who have accomplished much more than him in the NBA.
However, while many people have assumed that Rivers’ days in New Orleans are numbered, the 20-year-old still believes he can be a significant contributor for the Pelicans and eventually become just as good, if not better, than his new teammates. He understands that in order to be successful in the league, he’s going to have to beat others out and take someone else’s spot.
“Yeah, that’s what you have to do,” Rivers said. “It’s nothing personal, but this is my life, this is my job. I want to play and I know I will. I just got to work. We’ve got great players on the team. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We got Jrue Holiday, we got Tyreke Evans, we got Eric Gordon at the guard position. Those are all monsters down there, so I got to continue to work, get better and learn from them. I can learn from my peers. And I believe I’m a monster too. So I got to continue to work and just learn from my coaches and just go in there and try to help my team win. I’m not really focused on ‘why’s he here’ or any of that. That doesn’t do anybody any good. I love New Orleans, and I’m just excited to play.”
Rivers continues to develop his game and grow as a player. He started to play well toward the end of last season, just before breaking a bone in his hand. The young guard is currently playing in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where he has shown significant improvement. Through three games, Rivers has averaged 17.3 points while shooting 46.5 percent from the field.
“I’m a lot more confident now,” Rivers said. “I’m healthy, and I’ve gotten a lot better just this last year. I’ve got a year underneath my belt. I’ve learned to slow down, change speeds and read the defense a lot better. And with my shot, everything just feels better. I think I’ve just gotten better in every area. I know it sounds crazy but when you’re hurt, you get a chance to kind of reflect and see the things that you need to get better at and the things that you were already doing well, so I just move forward.
“I don’t think too much. It’s just an understanding like, ‘trust your hard work.’ I know I should be out here. I know I should be playing. Just go out there, play and have fun. I’m not worried about who I’m going against or who’s coming in, or any of that. I’m just going to go out there play my game, have fun, try to win these games and just work.”
The Pelicans’ officials have been very impressed with Rivers’ growth. He drew a lot of praise after New Orleans’ first game, when he contributed 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists against the New York Knicks. Even more impressive, he did this while being matched up against Iman Shumpert for most of the game.
“Austin [has] really played well on both ends of the floor,” Pelicans head coach Monty Williams said. “He seems a bit more comfortable than he did last year in summer league.”
Rivers has been training hard, by himself and with other players. During the NBA Finals, Rivers traveled to Miami and worked out with Kyrie Irving, who he considers a good friend. The former Duke guards spent some time together and Rivers picked Irving’s brain.
“It was great,” Rivers said. “He’s arguably one of the best point guards, if not the best point guard, in the league at this point, in my opinion. So for me to get to work with him for a day or so in Miami, we just got to go against each other in pickup and I just got to see his moves. His biggest thing obviously is he can go both ways because his confidence. He believes he’s better than everybody else, and that’s why he goes out there. That’s one of the things, man. The one thing people knew about me in high school and college is I always had a swagger about myself and I think I lost it a little bit last year, and then towards the end of the year I got it back where I was like, ‘I’m just going to go play.’ It’s crazy how it clicks. I just started to play well and then I broke my hand, but it left me with a sense of, ‘I’m confident now, I’m just going to go out there and play and not worry about who I’m going against.’ I know I should be able to beat anybody off the dribble and make plays for my team.”
Rivers can’t wait for the 2013-14 season because he believes the new-look Pelicans have what it takes to be a playoff team.
“We’re a better team,” Rivers said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Well, what do you think of the trades?’ Well, we’re better, man. We could be a playoff team. This year sucked. It was the first time I did not enjoy watching the playoffs. I’ve always loved watching the playoffs, but this year I didn’t want to watch it because I wasn’t in it. I was jealous seeing my other peers who were rookies last year get to play in the playoffs. So, these offseason trades have been great and this gives us a chance to be able to compete in the playoffs and give me a chance to where I could play there, so I’m excited.”
Rivers is one of the most confident young players in the league and he has a killer mentality. He doesn’t just want to be good, he wants to be great. With all of the talent in the Pelicans’ backcourt, it’s easy to write off Rivers. However, the 20-year-old has been making huge strides and could still become of the team’s focal points in a few years.
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