Austin Rivers knows a thing or two about being under the microscope. For one, he plays for the best team in one of America’s biggest markets, a team which has in recent times also become one of the more unpopular teams with fans in the entire NBA. Oh, and his father also happens to be the coach of said team. So, Rivers understands exactly what playing for the Los Angeles Clippers is all about in 2015-16. After choking away a Western Conference Finals berth to the Houston Rockets last season, it feels like this might be the last season this Clippers’ core may have together to prove they can get the job done.
Rivers has been putting up some improved numbers this season, so after the Clippers’ 116-88 blowout of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, we caught up with Rivers to ask him about his improvement, the Clippers’ season, the bench’s development and playing for his father.
Starting5: You’re putting up some career numbers in a few statistical categories. Is this a by-product of having a full training camp and preseason with the team? Is your comfort level greater this year?
Austin Rivers: For sure, I think that’s a big part of it. It’s funny that you say that, I still haven’t played as well as I want to. If I had to grade myself I’d give myself a C this season, I’m kind of disappointed so far, even though everyone’s telling me ‘you’re doing great, you’re playing so well,’ I feel like I could bring so much more. So, that’s where I’m at right now. I just wanna bring more to the team.
S5: You said you give yourself a C, but heading into the season from last, what did you expect from yourself as far as what you could do for the team this season?
AR: I think I could just be more of a playmaker. But again, it’s not early in the season, but there’s a lot of games left. I think I could just be better, all around. I’ve done it on the defensive end; I’m starting to get a little notoriety for my defense; I try to play as hard as I can on defense, but on offense I think I could be more aggressive, just making plays for myself and for my teammates. I think it’ll come around, it’s not so much for me [about] numbers, I think I’ll get there. I just gotta continue to be aggressive. That’s why I feel this way, I just feel I could be better.
S5: Last season one of the talking points of critics was the weakness of the Clippers’ bench. How would you assess where you guys are at as a bench this year? Are you happy with the performance of the bench?
AR: Yeah, I think we’ve been playing pretty well. I think right now our team ….we have to beat the good teams, ’cause we beat all these teams, which you’re supposed to [but] a lot of teams don’t. Every team we’re supposed to beat we beat, which is a good thing. But right now, our next game [at Toronto], we haven’t won one of those in a while, like, a top tier team – Toronto in Toronto, that’s a tough game to win. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I think that’s our next jump – as a bench, as a team, being able to put games together and getting those type of wins.
S5: Do you guys just set smaller goals for yourselves like that? Just to gauge improvement?
AR: Yeah, as a team and individually. I know where I want to be at the end of the season going into the playoffs. I know what I want to average, what assists .. I want around 10 points per game, 3.5 assists, 3 rebounds. I wanna get 20 minutes [per game], I know it’s a lot but I know I can do it. As a team I wanna be a third seed going in there and us as a unit we’re here to beat the best teams. So, that’s where I think I wanna be at individually, and as a team. I think I’ll get there, I think we’ll get there, we just gotta keep chipping away at it.
S5: Obviously the goal is championship. What do you guys do from here to move up in the West? You have some tough teams ahead of you—
AR: Yeah, it’s hard to move up in the West, ’cause the three teams ahead of us don’t lose. We’re not giving up on the Spurs and Warriors, but those two teams are far ahead of everybody, and there’s enough games, but there isn’t enough games [to catch up]. They’re not gonna lose that many games, let’s be honest. Both those teams might lose 5-6 games the rest of the year, so we’re not gonna catch the Spurs or Warriors, but what we can do is get that third seed and put ourselves in a good position, we can be okay with that.
S5: You guys are 11-2 in the last 13 games, top 4 seed currently. For an elite team in the Western Conference you guys have been through some ups-and-downs this season already – talk of blowing up the team, losing streaks, this morning the Josh Smith trade. How does the team keep an even keel through things like that?
AR: You know, I didn’t even know about that [Smith trade] until about 3 o’clock. I was kinda busy doing my routine for the game, I went to the team meeting and someone said he just got traded and I was like, ‘okay.’ You just have to keep playing, you just have to get through it. No-one feels sorry for us. If anything they’re happy. People don’t like us, you guys know that. We have to figure it out and it’s only gonna be us. We can’t point the finger and be like, ‘you gotta do this better.’ We gotta figure this shit out. My pops keeps preaching, ‘Guys if you think you’re gonna be on good team like this for the rest of your life, you’re not.’ You only get so many opportunities on a good team, so we realized the moment, and it’s been better since.
S5: Somebody asked your father pregame what the hardest thing about coaching his son was, and he said it was the same thing as you being his son: getting you to listen. What’s the hardest thing for you being coached by you dad?
AR: To be honest, sometimes you have frustrations that you wanna tell your coach, sometimes I want the ball more, sometimes I want this or whatever. You can’t let your individual stuff get in the way of the team, and it’s your father too, so I don’t wanna cross that line. It’s hard playing for your dad, straight up. People think this is all easy. It’s tough playing for him, it’s not something I thought was gonna happen, it’s not ideal, but it’s working for both of us right now. It is what it is. I’m using this right now as an opportunity to show that I bring value to a team and I can help a team win. You can see what the Warriors are doing, they’re winning. When a team wins everybody’s value goes up. That’s what I’m trying to do – help the team win in anyway I can. It’s tough playing for your father. People think he gives me advantages … it’s tough, but we get through it. It is what it is.