When the Houston Rockets fell to the Miami Heat last Thursday, they left South Beach with more than another loss added to their record. In the defeat, Chris Paul sustained a Grade 2 hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined over the next few weeks.
Although they bounced back with a thrilling victory over the San Antonio Spurs, it was clear that the Rockets were in desperate need for another guard moving forward. Thankfully, as a result of a failed trade to The Valley, Christmas came two days early for the Rockets with the signing of Austin Rivers after Phoenix bought out his deal.
In a 113-109 Christmas Day victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rivers made his debut in Houston and was enormous for the Rockets coming off the bench.
He recorded 10 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and knocked down two clutch three-pointers in the closing moments of the game. While he proved to be a key piece offensively, Rivers was a huge contributor for the Rockets’ solid performance on the defensive end, helping to hold Russell Westbrook and Paul George to three points on 1-for-9 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter.
In 31 minutes of action Rivers made an excellent first impression, and it was enough for a small sample size of what the Rockets can expect from the former Duke Blue Devil. As proven in the win over the Thunder, Rivers has an opportunity to reestablish himself as one of the better bench players in the league while playing under Mike D’Antoni.
While in Houston, Rivers will become a leader on the second unit and give the Rockets a reliable backup point guard who can create shots for himself and others in the absence of James Harden and Chris Paul. The lack of a substantial backup point guard has played a tremendous factor in the Rockets’ disappointing start to the season.
To understand the impact the 7-year-veteran can have on the team, one must review his numbers and production last season as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the wake of the Lob-City departure, Rivers had a breakout year last season with L.A. As their primary pick-and-roll ball handler and isolation player, Rivers appeared in 61 games averaging a career-high 15.1 points and 4.0 assists. And after years of struggling with his shot, Rivers had a decent season shooting from the outside as a 37.8 percent shooter from behind the arc.
Even on the defensive end, Rivers made improvements, recording a career-high 1.2 steals and holding his opponents shooting to 36.5 percent from downtown.
With the signing of Rivers, the Rockets are getting much-needed depth to their lineup, and a great player who can help Houston stay afloat without their all-star point guard.
And with this being a contract year for Austin Rivers, one should expect him to build off the success from last season, and play some of the best basketball of his career. If he can help the Rockets reemerge as a Western Conference powerhouse, we’ll be able to look back on the Christmas season arrival of Rivers as one of the turning points of the season.