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Austin Rivers’ offseason shot change paying major dividends for Timberwolves

10-year NBA veteran is shooting from beyond the arc at the best rate of his career

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Austin Rivers (25) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey defends on Dec. 16, 2022.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Austin Rivers (25) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey defends on Dec. 16, 2022.
Alonzo Adams / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Austin Rivers had been a solid 3-point shooter through the first 10 years of his NBA career. His 35% mark is more than good enough to stay on the court given his role as a wing defender off the bench.

Rivers fell under the umbrella of “a good shooter.”

But he wanted to be more.

“I’ve never been a great one,” he said.

So, Rivers’ mission in the offseason was to become one. His method of doing so was to change the mechanics of the shooting form that had served him well for years, a scary endeavor for a 30-year-old who is no longer guaranteed a roster spot in the NBA. He signed only a partially guaranteed one-year deal with Minnesota in free agency over the summer, one that has since become fully guaranteed for the season. But it was a move the 6-foot-4 guard felt was worthwhile. Why not give it a try? He had seen other players successfully recreate their shots, and he is a self-defined gym rat. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t work.

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In the past, Rivers would shoot with two hands in the sense that the thumb of his left hand remained on the ball as he went up. So he spent the summer focused on removing that thumb from the equation to shoot — as he puts it — “correctly.”

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Austin Rivers

That process started with five or six weeks of essentially just shooting free throws. Three-point attempts were not a part of his offseason diet. It’s not a process that can be rushed.

“It was just one summer changing your shot after like 20 years of shooting the same shot. It was breaking habits that I have been doing since I was four, you know what I mean?” Rivers said. “Like it was very mental and very frustrating because I was struggling getting the ball there. I was short, I didn’t trust it.”

Even after dedicating his entire offseason to the switch, Rivers still felt like he was still just figuring things out when the Timberwolves opened training camp.

It looked that way. Rivers looked unplayable on the offensive end throughout the preseason. The guard was 0-for-5 shooting from deep during exhibition games. That likely played a role in Timberwolves coach Chris Finch’s decision to leave Rivers out of the rotation for the first month of the regular season.

Still, throughout it all, Rivers never doubted his decision to make a change.

“I didn’t get this far in my life questioning who I am or anything, even if it wasn’t looking good at the time. I had to just keep shooting,” Rivers said. “I’d go to the gym every day and shoot and see it go in. I’m like, ‘Man, I know. I know it’s there.’ You know what I mean? That’s the best thing.

“When you’re not playing well, especially in preseason — I didn’t have the greatest shooting preseason — you have to work even harder off the court, because you have to have something to rely on, something to trust. So I’d go to the gym and shoot hundreds of shots and see it go in, telling myself it works.”

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But it’s one thing to see it work in an empty gym. It’s another to see the makes translate to games.

“But you see one (shot) fall, and then two fall, and then you just keep shooting. I’ve just shot thousands of shots, I’m gonna shoot a thousand more,” Rivers said. “And then you get to the point where once you have success there’s no turning back, I mean that confidence. Then you start reassuring yourself. You’re like, ‘Man, this works. Like, this really is working.’ And you just start doubling down, and it just gets better and better.”

That’s the current nirvana in which Rivers finds himself. Over his past 14 games, he is shooting a blistering 49% from deep on 3.5 3-point attempts per game.

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“It just feels like the ball just flies off my hands, man. It feels really good, especially in those corners,” Rivers said. “Every time I shoot that thing, I think it’s going in.”

And half the time, it is. Rivers is shooting 50% on 3-point shots from the corner this season, making him a major weapon on a team that desperately needs more outside shooting.

And Rivers noted the shot adjustment is a continual process. He expects the progression to only continue from here.

“I feel like an elite shooter,” he said. “So I really look forward to just building on that and carry on in the summer. I don’t see why it can’t be a 40% (3-point shooter), 80 to 90% free-throw shooter. As you’ve seen right now, it’s no fluke, I can really shoot the ball. So I’ve just got to keep putting in the work, keep trusting it and keep building.”

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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