Denver Nuggets: Is this Austin Rivers’ last shot?

Denver Nuggets guard Austin Rivers (25) poses for a photo during media day at Ball Arena on 27 Sept. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Denver Nuggets guard Austin Rivers (25) poses for a photo during media day at Ball Arena on 27 Sept. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

As Austin Rivers enters his first full season with the Denver Nuggets, he recently said it’s looking like this is his final shot to stick in the NBA and make a name for himself. Can he do it?

Speaking with Mike Singer on The Denver Post‘s Nuggets Ink podcast, Rivers said he isn’t taking this opportunity with Denver for granted:

“I’m not any more comfortable now than I was a year ago. I’m still treating this like this is my last shot.”

Rivers signed with the Nuggets late in the 2020-21 season, coming in following Jamal Murray’s torn ACL in April. The pairing was quite fortunate for Austin who has just been released by the Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded away from the New York Knicks at the deadline.

It turned out well for Austin Rivers who was able to join a playoff team and add scoring depth at the guard positions. In the playoffs, he started nine out of his ten games, averaging 9.2 points per night while 41 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Following Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers, head coach Michael Malone was effusive in his praise for the former Duke guard:

“Couldn’t be happier for the kid. I just told our team, think about this – guy was sitting at home for two and half months, waiting for his phone to ring. And it wasn’t ringing. That to me is crazy to even think about.

“Austin Rivers is a good player. He’s played in 45 playoff games prior to this season, and it just worked out for him and us that he’s here.”

With the ACL injury is likely keeping Jamal out for most, if not all, of the upcoming season, the Nuggets need to find a way to replace his regular season production in the 2021-22 season. Tim Connelly and the Denver brass decided to turn to internal improvements, hoping players like Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton can score more while the point guards: Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo take the ball-handling duties.

There will definitely be opportunities for Rivers in the rotation as a backup lead guard or scoring wing, playing with both starting and bench units.

If health isn’t an issue, River should be the backup shooting guard entering the season but with Will Barton’s track record with injuries and MPJ’s troublesome back flaring up in the second-round series against the Phoenix Suns, there could be nights when Rivers gets an extended opportunity.

Rivers was just above the league average in terms of effective field goal percentage this past season, buoyed by his elite 3-point shooting per Cleaning the Glass. While he wasn’t elite at scoring in the paint or the mid-range, 63 percent of his attempts came from behind the arc so it didn’t matter too much.

With the two guards likely sharing the 48 minutes at lead guard and Nikola Jokic being the offensive hub he usually is, Rivers could excel by turning more into a spot-up shooter.

In the past, Rivers has been asked to anchor bench scoring units with his creation. While not the best in the league, he has been a solid bench player. Obviously not solid enough as the Knicks went in another direction mid-season.

If Austin can focus on scoring off the pressure Jokic and MPJ put on the defense, he could find himself closing games. Malone has been excited about Rivers’ defensive potential early in training camp and if it’s real, he could fill the Gary Harris 3-and-D guard role.

It may be a leap of faith and some solid pre-season/training camp hype, but if Rivers can’t change his game to fit in with the Denver Nuggets, it might just be his last shot.