Last year, Austin Rivers was having a tough time as a rookie with the New Orleans Pelicans, but he’s a lot more comfortable getting playing time and hard coaching from Head Coach Monty Williams this time around. It’s not like the young guard wasn’t used to being told what to do and how to do it after spending a year under Coach K – Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“That is who (Williams) is, he is very competitive and he demands a lot which is fine because he wants the best out of all of us,” Rivers said. “Especially because we are young – especially on the point guards, he is really hard on me and Brian (Roberts). Which is great because he wants us to get better and he knows if we get better, this team will get better and that’s just who he is. I am used to that because Coach K – he’s not – I can’t really say too much, but he’s tough on you too and that’s because he demands greatness. It’s good though, it’s making us better.”
However, after not feeling like he progressed as he should have as a rookie, Rivers knows it takes playing time to learn the NBA game and this season, opportunity has been knocking.
“Playing time, that’s the best way to get better in this league,” Rivers said. “You could work out 20 times a day, if a kid on another team works out one time a day, but is playing 25 more minutes than you in a game, he is going to get better, that’s just the ins and outs. It’s all about opportunity and it’s all about the situation you fit in and this year it has worked out a lot better than last year. Unfortunately it had to be with injuries, but nonetheless, that’s part of the game.”
Rivers has an additional challenge as he learns how to play at the NBA level. The leading scorer at Duke in his only college season, Rivers is now trying to become a true point guard and the transition has been difficult.
“In college it was score, score, we need you to score and I was like – fine – everybody wants to score,” Rivers explained. “Now as a point guard you got Tyreke Evans over here and Eric Gordon here, Anthony Davis right here and now it’s about getting those guys going and then if that’s not working out or if we haven’t been to the basket in a while and we need a bucket, then I try to go. That’s the balance and it’s hard, it’s really hard. I don’t know if you can be perfect at it, it’s just that you have to get good at it and I am getting better at it, but I’m not good at it yet – but, I’m getting there. I am trying to get to the point where I can make plays for others as well as myself.”
The biggest adjustment is making reads for others. As a scorer, Rivers wasn’t required to make those around him better, now that is primarily how he’s judged and Rivers is starting to feel more comfortable and look more comfortable facilitating for others.
“Last year I had trouble making reads,” Rivers said. “All I knew how to do was score, but now I know how to score when I need to and get players open when I need to and that’s something I am still getting better at every day. I think my I.Q. of the game is just way better – just going out and relaxing now instead of worrying about doing this and doing that. Now I just go out there and play.”
It has all been about getting an opportunity to play, fail and learn from his mistakes.
“How you get better is going and playing in the game and failing and learning from your mistakes and then correcting them,” Rivers said. “That’s the best way to get better in this league.”
It has been another rough year for the Pelicans. Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith are injured and New Orleans’ hopes for a better season went with them. However, Williams is not giving the rest of the guys the season off and there is some long term benefit from hard coaching and making the rest of the roster better. It’s not like Rivers is complaining.
“Our coach really knows how to make us play,” Rivers said. “We play hard. Even when we lose and we are in the locker room, no one feels bad. We gave our all, we just didn’t have enough, we just didn’t make those plays.
“Playing time fixes everything, it’s the cure to happiness. You could live in Los Angeles and if you’re not playing well or not playing at all, you won’t want this city – I got to get outa here, but if you’re playing 40 minutes in Utah, I love it here, it’s great. Nothing against Utah, I think Utah is beautiful.”
The Pelicans might just have enough next year and Rivers may have learned enough to a big part of a resurgence.
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“I always tell the guys we can be friends later,” Williams said. “You can get better now, so you have to figure out which one you want. We can be friends now and you suffer.”
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“It is fun,” Hinrich admitted. “The games and being around the guys, I think that’s what when you look back on it you are really going to miss – the camaraderie, the competing with a group of guys you respect. Some things are not as fun as they used to be. We joke sometimes about shoot-a-rounds. I don’t know how many more shoot-a-rounds I have in me.”