Austin Rivers Fits the Sixers’ Long Term Plans

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers need to makes some upgrades at the point guard spot. Austin Rivers could be an ideal long term compliment to Ben Simmons.

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ roster, long term, remains far from complete. They still have a glut of big men highlighting the tail end of their rotation, while lacking a legitimate solution at the point guard spot moving forward. As well as T.J. McConnell has played of late, the most generous of projections slot him as a backup on a competitive roster. Additionally, Sergio Rodriguez likely won’t be with the team next season, while Jerryd Bayless isn’t a solution in the starting group.

With the team becoming ever-relevant behind the one-man revitalization that is Joel Embiid, Bryan Colangelo is now tasked with equipping the team for legitimate competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons is bound to return at some point as well, which establishes a pairing that would — in all likelihood — be the focal point of any roster movement for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, the Sixers will likely be judicious in their search for guard help on the perimeter. While a solid facilitator is certainly needed in reserve for teams running through a point forward of Simmons’ ilk, the best on-court compliment is going to provide more of an scoring spark. That makes a strong 3-point shooter who can still help carry the playmaking load as a secondary creator the ideal archetype to pursue.

Austin Rivers fits that mold.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

Rivers is producing at a career-high level.

Rivers is experiencing career highs across the board this year, putting up 12 points per game alongside just shy of 3 assists, all in 27.5 minutes per contest. And while that may not seem like an overtly impressive stat line, it’s the level at which he has produced without Chris Paul on the floor that has been most impressive.

In the month of January, Rivers averaged 17.6 points and 4.5 assists per contest in 35.6 minutes per game. As a starter this season — 20 games in total — Rivers is averaging a similar 17 points and 3.9 assists.

After a slow start to his career, the former 10th overall pick in 2012 is finally beginning to find his groove as an NBA player. His 3-point shooting is up to 38.9 percent this season, an over-5 percent increase from last season’s total, while doing so on a career-best 3.9 attempts per contest.

The Duke product has excellent physical tools for the one spot at 6-4, and after spending the first several seasons of his career in limbo between 2-guard and point guard, is beginning to establish himself as a capable floor general for a Clippers team that has needed his production sans CP3.

Rivers-Simmons could function at a high level.

Part of what makes Rivers such a relevant fit in regards to the Sixers is his theoretical role alongside Ben Simmons. As a solid volume scorer from deep, Rivers has the ability to play off of Simmons as a shooter, while still boasting the ability to step up and run the offense when called upon.

He helps take some of the workload off of Simmons while still retaining functionality elsewhere in a multitude of settings. Brett Brown still, during his process-driven years, hasn’t worked with a perimeter scoring threat of Rivers’ caliber — something that could bode well should a trade occur.

A lot of Rivers’ role in the offense with Los Angeles involves moving off the ball and spotting up for three, which mimics what he’d likely be asked to do in a Simmons-Embiid-headed lineup. In the clip above, there’s a handful of times where you see Blake Griffin driving the lane and finding Rivers with a kick-out pass off the bounce. That’s something Ben Simmons could likely do in even more precise fashion.

He also works well as a ball handler in the pick-and-roll, possessing the ability to pull-up and shoot or get to the basket and finish through contact, as well as make the pass when available. The Sixers, with a healthy Simmons, would provide two highly capable bigs who could provide the screen and subsequent roll alongside Rivers.

Jan 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown reacts during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown reacts during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Brown hasn’t had a true floor spacer at point guard yet.

When you think back to the most prominent of process-era point guards, one attribute runs relatively consistent throughout: they lack shooting. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year as a mid-range, slash-heavy facilitator. Tony Wroten was far from dependent on the 3-ball, as were Ish Smith and T.J. McConnell as well.

Isaiah Canaan was among the best shooters of that group, and while he’s perfectly capable of hitting shots — don’t get me wrong — he’s not the dynamic floor spacer that Rivers has the potential to provide.

With a wave of new talent entering the frontcourt and more palatable production stemming from elsewhere in the rotation, Brett Brown will have the ability to open up plays he hasn’t been able to in years past — and a shooter like Rivers could be immensely beneficial. Simmons and Embiid both command hefty attention in their own right, while Nik Stauskas has proven apt as a drive-and-kick asset himself.

There’s plenty of room to run the offense through in a plethora of different ways, and Rivers could be the glue guy of sorts that ties everything together.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Rivers is on an affordable contract with reasonable trade value.

One of the most attractive aspects of Rivers as a potential trade piece is his contract. Rivers is currently on the first year of a three year deal, with a player option for the last season. That final year tops out at just $12.65 million, making Rivers — at the very least — a solid year-and-a-half rental on a contract that is ultra-affordable under the rising cap room.

He’d also be someone that could, long term, be a more reasonable retainment than a second big man of either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor‘s caliber. That also leads into trade value, and who exactly the Sixers would be trading away.

While the Sixers don’t have a pressing need at the center spot with DeAndre Jordan, they could feasibly be willing to part with Rivers for a backup with Noel or Okafor’s combination of production and inevitable longevity. Mo Speights is effective in shorts bursts, but lacks defensive prowess and durable offensive functionality.

The Sixers could be asked to fill voids elsewhere as well given Rivers’ prominence in the Clippers’ rotation, but a deal benefiting both sides seems fully within reason.

What a potential trade could look like:
76ers get PG Austin Rivers, PF Brice Johnson

Clippers get C Jahlil Okafor, PG T.J. McConnell, 2017 2nd Round Pick (NYK)

While the minutia of such a deal could differ, this makes some sense on both sides. The Sixers get Rivers, as well as a rookie in Brice Johnson who could project well as a back-up power forward down the road. They also clear up their logjam by offloading Okafor.

The Clippers, in turn, add youthful depth with Jah, something they necessitate in ever-more-severe fashion. They also grab McConnell, who despite the short-term effects, likely doesn’t possess a role in the Sixers’ overarching plan moving forward. Rivers would replace him in the starting rotation in Philadelphia, while McConnell would be slotted as more depth in an injury-deprived backcourt for Los Angeles after Rivers’ departure.

While T.J. is a clear fan favorite in Philadelphia, this is an example of maximizing trade value from overzealous teams for an asset who has peaked as of late. McConnell’s trade appeal likely won’t be this high at any point moving forward, as his status on a contending team should diminish greatly in comparison to what it currently is.

This is a Sixers team that is beginning a newfound shift towards Eastern Conference relevancy under Bryan Colangelo, with Rivers potentially expediting the process. He’s the type of Ben Simmons fit that could be worked into the rotation in longstanding fashion, while giving the team as basis to build around in the backcourt that they don’t currently possess.

If available, Philadelphia should be making calls to Doc Rivers’ (who is actually Austin’s father) office right now.

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