If there was a simple fix or reason for Austin Rivers’ poor shooting night, it escaped him after the Wizards' loss to Oklahoma City on Friday.
Quiet frustration filled the Wizards' locker room, along with the hordes of media members surrounding Bradley Beal a handful of lockers away.
Rivers put the finishing touches on his attire in relative solitude, transforming from NBA player to civilian. There was no removing the downtrodden look on his face, the demoralized vibe emitting with every action.
Others in the locker room shared similar wearisome traits as the Wizards fell to an inexplicable 1-7 record. Rivers’ mood, afflicted by the team’s troubles, carried additional weight after playing 21 scoreless minutes and finishing 0 for 3 from the field in the 134-111 loss.
The struggles were no one-off in his first campaign with Washington. Now in his seventh season, Rivers is averaging 6.5 points per game while shooting 37.3 percent from the field. He last sniffed those statistical ranges during his rookie season.
“I don’t know, man. If I knew I would have changed it,” Rivers said to NBC Sports Washington when asked to pinpoint the issues. “Playing bad basketball. I don’t really know. It’s really frustrating because you want to do well. You want the team to do well. I had no impact. [Expletive] zero points, man. I don’t remember the last time I had something like that. I can’t remember the last time I played this bad.”
We can answer the last scoreless game question. Ironically, it came against Washington in March of 2017, as Rivers missed three shot attempts in eight minutes. There are other minimal-scoring, poor shooting performances in recent seasons.
Off nights happen, and Rivers typically followed up such outings with solid production soon after. This season, the 2012 lottery pick has failed to reach double-figure points in seven of eight games.
“I don’t have an answer for you. I’m past the stage of trying to find my rhythm or trying to find my groove. Them stages are over,” Rivers told NBC Sports Washington. “I feel fine. I don’t know what the hell it is.”
Washington acquired the combo guard in June from the Los Angeles Clippers as a fair exchange for center Marcin Gortat, but also to boost the team’s scoring potential. Rivers wouldn't receive the same level of opportunities playing behind John Wall and Bradley Beal he did during a breakthrough 2017-18 season. Rivers set career-highs in scoring (15.1), minutes (33.7) and 3-point percentage (37.8) while developing into one of the league’s most efficient isolation scorers.
“Career year, I am trying to come here and expand my game and help this team in many ways especially both ends of the floor. Offensively and defensively. I have not been able to do anything for this team offensively so far this year, and it is frustrating because we are losing games," Rivers said. "I don’t know. I keep talking to everybody, and they keep telling me to be aggressive, so I’m trying to find ways to be aggressive."
"It’s not about shots, but I’m only shooting it three times a game. I’m trying to figure out what I can do to be more aggressive, to put myself in position to score and make plays because we’re not scoring the ball enough. I am trying to figure this [expletive] out, man.”
Last season, he attempted the fifth-most isolation plays per game (21.8) in the league (min. 50 games played), yet ranked third in effective field goal percentage (52.6) and had the lowest turnover frequency (3.3%) on such tries. This season, his EFG percentage (27.8) is down while the turnovers (10.0% per isolation) are up.
“I’ve been here long enough now to be able to pinpoint what I can do. It’s not just me. We’ve got a couple of guys feeling the same way. It’s nobody being selfish. That’s not the problem. Honestly, if we get more stops, we will be able to play through it and be able to get up and down more, and get guys going that way, but every play it seems like we are bringing it up, pass it a couple times, shot goes up, and that is about it. I’m not the type of dude who is going to force bad looks so I can get mine. I’m going to play the right way to hopefully things turn around. I am not having confidence issues or second-guessing myself. That is not what I am doing here. I feel totally confident in my abilities. I am just not doing anything right now. You asked me what’s the problem. I wish I knew.”
One specific problem against the Thunder was the play of the Wizards’ second unit. Coach Scott Brooks, as he’s want to do, went with an all-bench lineup late in the first half. By the time any starter returned in the second quarter, a tied game had turned into a 12-point deficit. The rout was on.
“It was 30- 30 when we got in there. It was a tied game. We do not need to over-complicate things. We need to be better,” Rivers said. “The starters come back, and they’re down 12. What the [expletive] you’re supposed to do with that?”
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