Washington Wizards: Austin Rivers is the X-Factor for a Successful 2018-19 Season

Sunday night, the Washington Wizards defeated the New York Knicks 108-95 at home, ending a five-game losing streak. Sunday’s win was much needed for a Washington Wizards team that is going to be on the road for the next three games.

Winning at home against the Knicks is a step in the right direction, but the Washington Wizards still have a lot of work to do. Currently, the team is sitting at 2-7, which is unacceptable for a team who was projected to be in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings come late May.

Washington Wizards Core Must Elevate Play

Granted, there is still a lot of basketball left to play but the Wizards need to put some wins together in order to climb back into the top of the East. Sunday night both John Wall and Bradley Beal played better on both sides of the ball.

Beal finished the game with 22 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and three assists while shooting seven-of-14 from the field. On the other hand, Wall finished the game with 26 points, seven assists, five steals and two rebounds while shooting nine-of-16 from the floor.

Obviously, Beal and Wall can carry their own and were bound for a strong performance. However, the Wizards have always struggled to produce points when their starting backcourt is off the floor. One player that the team needs more contributions from is Austin Rivers.

Rivers was traded to the Wizards over the summer in exchange for Marcin Gortat, who sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. As of now, Rivers is still trying to find his footing in the nation’s capital.

The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 6.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. In order for this Wizards team to pick up the pace, they need their backup guard to settle in. Again, the Washington Wizards tend to struggle when their starting guards are off the floor.

Adding the 26-year-old provides the team with another playmaker and scorer. The six-year veteran needs to pick up the pace because he is the x-factor for the Washington Wizards this season.

Bench Depth is Key

Over the last two years, the Washington Wizards have been trying to find a solid backup point guard. Last year, the team had Tomas Satoransky, Ramon Sessions, and Tim Frazier competing for minutes at the backup point guard slot.

Satoransky had a significant impact off the bench and as a starter during the time Wall was out due to injury. He started 30 games last season and helped keep the Wizards in the playoff picture. However, this season the 6-foot-7 guard is trying to embrace his role with the team.

Sessions did not pan out because of his lack of aggression on the offensive side of the ball. Frazier played 59 games with Washington and helped run the offense but rarely opted to score because of his pass-first mentality.

Addressing Bench Concerns

During the 2016-17 season, the Wiz Kids had Trey Burke, Brandon Jennings and Sheldon Mac. All three guards were trying to redefine their careers. Burke struggled to fit in with the Wizards and often times looked lost in the system.

Jennings at times seemed nervous and afraid to be aggressive because of his recent Achilles injury. Mac struggled to get consistent minutes as he averaged 9.6 minutes a game. This year the team has a solid backup in Rivers who can play point or shooting guard.

At the end of the 2017-18 season, he averaged 15.1 points, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 37.8 percent from three. Trading for the Duke product was a great move for the Washington Wizards because it provides them with someone who can play in multiple roles.

The former Clipper can start in case of injury or he can come off the bench. Adding him allows Washington to play a small-ball lineup that could include Rivers, Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Dwight Howard.

Of course, Wizards’ head coach Scott Brooks could place Markieff Morris in the mix as well. However, the important thing to remember is that having Rivers allows Brooks to mix it up a bit.

Currently, the second unit consists of Satoransky, Rivers, Kelly Oubre Jr. (who should start), Jeff Green and Ian Mahinmi. This year’s bench has the potential to help push the Wizards into the right direction.


Floor Spacing is Key

Washington finished third in three-point percentage (37.5 percent) last season, behind the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. Rivers will help the Wizards continue to space the floor and shoot a high percentage from three.

Over the last two seasons, he has improved his three-point range and shooting percentage. Last season he shot 37.8 percent from three and attempted 5.9 per game. During the 2016-17 season, he shot 37.1 percent from three while attempting four a game.

One aspect that has caused people to remove or overlook Wall from being a top five point guard is his inability to shoot the three ball consistently. Placing Rivers into the second lineup takes the pressure off of Wall. Often times this season Wall, Rivers and Beal have been in the game at same time.

Rivers has the ability to play off the ball and he has a low usage percentage (13.6) which helps him and Wall coexist on the floor. Although Rivers is not a consistent spot-up shooter, he does pose a threat for defenses which will allows Wall to drive and dish.

If Rivers is running the second unit he can push the tempo with Oubre Jr. running the wing or he can play off of Satoransky. The versatility of Rivers allows the Washington Wizards to place him in any lineup. Needless to say, the 26-year-old has to play better in order for the Wiz Kids to have a chance to turn it around.

Multiple Playmakers

Despite a terrible start to the 2018-19 season, the Washington Wizards still have time to make a comeback. This year’s roster has enough talent to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals if healthy.

Not to mention throughout the season at certain times this team has looked sharp in small spurts. But the team has continued to fall apart in the second half of games. Last year Beal played in his first All-Star game which has motivated him to continue to work on his game.

Between Wall, Beal, Oubre Jr. and Rivers there is enough playmaking to help this team climb back up into the top of the East. All four players can handle the ball and create offense for themselves on a regular basis.

But is there enough basketball to go around? Oubre Jr., in his fourth year, has been playing solid basketball. The 6-foot-7 forward plays until the whistle blows on every play no matter if his team is trailing or leading the game.

The Second Unit is Crucial for Washington’s Success

Last Tuesday, Washington lost 107-95 to the Memphis Grizzlies. The team continued to fight back with the leading efforts of Oubre Jr. Rivers can help run the second unit with Oubre Jr. because of how their games complement one another.

The 6-foot-7 forward moves without the basketball and does an excellent job of freeing space for his teammates by setting picks. Rivers, on the other hand, does a great job with moving without the ball. However, he is at his best when he has the ball in his hands driving to the basket or taking two quick dribbles to create space for a shot.

In addition to Oubre Jr., Satoransky could still run the point in the second unit with Rivers on the floor because of his ability to play off the ball. Washington’s second unit with the leadership of Rivers could be just what the team needs.

At this juncture, Washington needs to pull it together, otherwise this could be a long season. Nonetheless, the x-factor for this season is Rivers.

The Washington Wizards will face the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center Tuesday at 8:30 PM on NBA TV. Both teams are 2-7 and struggling to find consistency.

*All statistics for this article are from Stats.nba.com and Espn.com.

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