It’s probably already been ground into your head that Austin Rivers joining the New York Knicks completes the fourth father/son duo to play for this franchise. And if it hasn’t, now you know.
The Knicks signed Rivers to a 3-year, $10 million deal which, in retrospect, looks like the steal of all steals — yes, we use basketball puns here.
Most Knicks fans likely anticipated valuable minutes from Rivers, which is a fair assumption given his history as a bench player and the Knicks’ plethora of guards at the moment. But Rivers has made the most of the time he does get, and that’s reassuring for the prospects of the entire season.
Hit the ground running
Rivers started the season injured, missing the first four games of the season due to an injury to his right groin.
Frank Ntilikina’s history with this injury should dictate that everyone knows how unfortunate those injuries can be, and for guards especially, there is a level of concern to have with rushing players back from such an injury.
Rivers, however, injures injuries.
Austin Rivers (sore groin) has been upgraded to probable for tonight’s game against the Raptors in Tampa.
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) December 31, 2020
He followed a four-game absence with a return against the Toronto Raptors, a game that, prior to occurring, he had no practice reps for.
While he went on to have an underwhelming performance in 21 minutes of play, the Knicks all but lost that game as soon as they shot themselves into the gutter.
In the four games to follow, Rivers erupted onto the scene with fury.
A 15 points in 17 minutes showing against the Indiana Pacers started his rampage. A clutch performance against the Atlanta Hawks followed, and an even more clutch shooting performance against the Utah Jazz iced the cake.
Most importantly, Rivers ignited for 14 points in the fourth quarter, hitting three of his five three-pointers that night in the final four minutes of the game, sparking an electric scoring spree for a Knicks win.
It was during this streak that Rivers proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was the second coming of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. All jokes aside, though, his final stand against the Jazz was extremely exciting and displayed that he does have some value as a veteran on this team.
A slight rut
Unfortunately for Rivers, he fell into a terrible slump following his incredible feat against the Jazz, missing easy layups, bricking some wide open shots, and looking altogether lost. I don’t even know what we could attribute to this happening, because just a few weeks ago, Rivers looked fresh and composed in just about every game.
In the eight game stretch following the victory against the Jazz, Rivers was averaging a miserable 5.75 points per game on 30.4 percent shooting from the field and 29.4 percent from three.
Nonetheless, this was what was expected, just not to such a degree. Thankfully, Rivers managed to bounce back.
In the Knicks’ most recent game against Utah, Rivers blew up again shooting 100 percent from the field (10-of-10, 5-of-5 from beyond the arc) in he first half of basketball.
He erupted for 25 points, and simply couldn’t be stopped, or so it seemed. Thanks to Rivers, the Knicks saw a 13-point lead at halftime, though they would go on to lose, as early foul trouble are into Rivers’ momentum and the team, collectively, lost its touch.
While I may joke about Rivers’ ability to look like the greatest basketball player in the league this season, performances like we’ve seen against Utah give a much brighter appearance to the contract we signed him for. Granted, the atrocious slump he was in didn’t bode well whatsoever.
That said, Rivers can still be of use, but we must simply accept the reality that he is not going to be the best guard on the floor every game.
New York has stuck it to some pretty defensively gifted teams thus far, while remaining a Top-5 defense themselves. Offensively, they lack the firepower that most teams have, but Rivers can help change that from time to time.
He has been tested before
It cannot be understated that Rivers has brought valuable playing time to teams in the past.
His regular season averages since he left New Orleans have been generous and about as expected for the type of player he is: a viable role player.
Between Alec Burks, Julius Randle, and Rivers, there is no shortage of veteran presence with high upside, and while Rivers has had some insane moments, no one expects him to be a walking deity every time he steps on the court.
If the Knicks were to make the playoffs this year, Rivers would likely perform as he has in the five playoffs he’s appeared in, and that’s just average enough to be of use. Tom Thibodeau loves his vets, and Rivers is deservingly one of them.
He plays adequate defense and balances out his role on the other end of the floor being a deep threat and playmaker, though not in the traditional sense.
Rivers hasn’t averaged over four assists in his career, indicative of his listing as shooting guard, but the gravity he has as a shooter helps him keep defenses honest, which opens up scoring opportunities for those around him as well.
Hope on the horizon
For now, myself and all other Knicks fans will be basking in the scoring and energy Rivers brings to the young guys on this team. I don’t think anyone could blame Knicks fans for appreciating Rivers, despite some struggle, because since his debut he’s been saying all the right things in all the right ways.
Among other postgame interviews, this one sticks out the most.
Rivers casts away the image of players not wanting to come to The Mecca and assume responsibility of helping the Knicks rise from the ashes. He also acknowledges that, while young, this team has a lot to prove and they’re already accomplishing that.