(By Michael McNamara and Jason Calmes)
Just yesterday, ESPN Insider ran a story that set out to answer one simple question- Is Austin Rivers Having the Worst Season Ever? For those without Insider access or who simply lack the desire to read another anti-Rivers column, the author (Kevin Pelton) uses a player metric that he created for the NBA called WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) and according to his projection, Austin Rivers is on pace to have the lowest score in the thirty-four year history of this metric. In order to balance out the perspective and help the answer his own question, we have posed some questions ourselves.
Is the Season Over Already?
Pelton is projecting how Rivers is finishing the season, but he is using the numbers Rivers has just a third of a way through the season. For the projection to be accurate, Rivers' numbers over the final two-thirds of the season would have to mirror what we have seen from the first third. Here's the problem with that, though- his numbers already look drastically different over these past three weeks when you compare them to what he was producing earlier in the season. Since December 7th, his points per game has risen by 50%, his field goal percentage is up 12%, and he has increased his rebounds and three-pointers made per game, all while decreasing his turnovers.
Even if he just maintains the numbers that he has produced in this recent ten-game stretch over the rest of the year, his end of season numbers will be quite respectable as the horrific numbers he posted in the first 16 games will be diluted. But what if he continues to improve? We have seen major jumps in the last three weeks, and while it might be unrealistic to see the numbers spike that much again, is it beyond the realm of comprehension that a guy who works as hard as Austin does will get even better? We have seen his PER practically double over this stretch, and even if he just maintains this recent play for the rest of the year, we are looking at a PER close to 10. Another jump in production could put him in the very respectable 11-13 region should Rivers sustain that improved play throughout the remainder of the season.
Increased individual numbers combined with better play from the Hornets as a team (and more wins) will drastically increase Rivers WARP numbers. It would take actual regression from Rivers at this point to maintain Pelton's projection, and it would be surprising to see Rivers or the team move backward. This regression would also have to maintained while netting the significant minutes he has played up to this point. This could be affected by Monty reducing his minutes per his decision, injury, and an altered role to due to the expected return of Eric Gordon.
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