Continuing our player preview series with Austin Rivers, who came onto the scene late last year and is looking to find his role on the Denver Nuggets again this season.
Austin Rivers 2020-21 Statistics (with Denver)
Rivers appeared in 15 regular season games and 10 playoff games for the Nuggets last season after starting the year with the New York Knicks. With the Nuggets, Rivers averaged 8.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. The playoffs was where Rivers really made his mark as he averaged 9.2 points and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc.
His three-point shooting is what really stood out, specifically in the postseason as Rivers averages jumped from what he shot (37.5) in the regular season. Rivers not only knocked down more three-pointers, but they were timely when the Nuggets needed them most. With the Nuggets desperately needing some more three-point help with Jamal Murray, PJ Dozier, and Will Barton down, Rivers 100 percent delivered.
Rivers burst one the scene late last season with the Nuggets and provided a massive spark when Denver needed him most. With guards going down left and right, Rivers provided the Nuggets solid depth and was a constant player they could rely on. Rivers made the most of every opportunity he was given, specifically in the Nuggets first round series victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the Trail Blazers series, Rivers averaged 11.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and shot a scorching 48.4 percent from beyond the arc. Rivers best performance came in Game 3 when he dropped 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Denver won that game and they also won a pivotal Game 5 at home in which Rivers scored 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 from three. The best part of that game was Rivers played 47 minutes in the Nuggets double overtime victory.
The question surrounding Rivers is where does he fit in with the Nuggets this season? A lot of the players who were injured last year — Barton, Dozier, Monte Morris — are healthy again and Rivers playing time last season came because those guys were out. Denver also has a pretty solid rookie in Bones Hyland and it sounds like he’s already in the Nuggets rotation, so where does that leave Rivers?
If the Nuggets deploy a rotation that features a starting unit of Monte Morris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic that leaves their bench unit in the hands of Hyland, PJ Dozier, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo, and Austin Rivers. It’s doubtful the Nuggets can give every one of those bench players around 15 minutes a night and Hyland certainly has to be the first in line to get those with his youth and upside.
That leaves Campazzo and Rivers to duke it out for that final spot. It could be a scenario where Campazzo players one night and Rivers plays the other night until one of them separates themselves from the other. It could also be a situation where if another injury happens to one of the Nuggets guards that their next best replacement is already on the lineup in Rivers. One thing is for certain and it’s that their is a role to be had for Rivers on this team, what that role is might just become more clear over time.
The best case scenario is hopefully Rivers can find a role that doesn’t take minutes away from players like Hyland and Dozier. To do that it may take beating Campazzo out of the rotation and if Rivers is able to do that I’d imagine he gets around 10-15 minutes per game.
What Rivers does with those minutes will be huge for him to stay on the court. As long as he’s productive on both ends of the floor and knocks down three-pointers consistently like he did last season then it will be tough to keep him off the floor.
If he doesn’t carve out a normal rotation spot the best case scenario for Rivers probably is the Nuggets don’t have to use him. That means everyone is staying healthy and once Jamal Murray returns — hopefully some time this season — it may push Rivers even further down the depth chart. If he does end up playing though Rivers showed he has plenty left in the tank last season and can produce anytime he is called upon.
It’s similar to what we said in the best case, but if Rivers is playing around 20-25 minutes per night that’s bad news for the Nuggets. It likely means one of the Nuggets guards suffered an injury and Rivers is filling in for him. Denver suffered way to many injuries at guard last season so you’d think their luck has to turn in the right direction this year, right?
As much as I’d like to imagine a world with no injuries, it’s just not that realistic. I think by the time December roles around, Rivers is going to have a pretty solid role on this Nuggets team averaging 15-20 minutes per game off the bench. Rivers will shoot over 40 percent from three like he did in the playoffs last year and it will make it almost impossible to keep him off the floor once everyone returns to the lineup from injury.