NEW YORK -- The Washington Wizards are done with the structured portion of shootaround at Madison Square Garden, and Austin Rivers is hopping around the 3-point line, getting his shots up. After one swish, he turns to his teammate Kelly Oubre and says, with total earnestness, "I love that sound."
Rivers, 26, is in a good place. After averaging a career-high 15.1 points and 4.0 assists last season, the Los Angeles Clippers traded him to the Washington Wizards in late June. The coached-by-his-father chapter of his career is behind him, and he sees a meaningful role for himself relieving John Wall and Bradley Beal. He became a father this summer, too. When asked about how he sees this season, though, Rivers gets serious.
"I think we're heavily slept-on," he tells me. "Team's been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we're heavily slept-on, but that's fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East."
"Yeah, I would say Indiana's the other team that gets slept-on, too," he says. "You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them."
Rivers rattles off Evans' stats from last season, then continues: "That's who they just added to the team? And nobody seems to talk about the Pacers because everybody's so f---ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: they're both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we're in the same situation."
According to Rivers, the Wizards have spent training camp and preseason focused on pushing the pace and changing their style of play. They know that, with their high-priced core of Wall, Beal and Otto Porter, they can't afford to have another forgettable, underwhelming season. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
CBS Sports: So, the bench has been a big storyline with this team for years …
Austin Rivers: That's not gonna be a problem no more. Yeah, this is my first year here, man. I feel like a lot of the shit I did last year was discredited just because I played for my pops. I'm going from being a starter to being a bench player this year, I have to adjust my mindset. But I think between me and Kelly [Oubre] off the bench; and then you've got guys like Tomas Satoransky, who's just a solid player, man; Jeff Green, a veteran player; our bench can be one of the more elite teams. They went from not having a really good bench to having a powerful bench. This is why I think we have a chance to compete with the best teams: because of our depth.
CBS: That mindset you mentioned, being discredited -- is that something the whole team can use?
AR: I think we have to just because this core that's been here. It's been here so long, if it continues to not work, they're just going to be like, 'Alright, let's blow it up.' I think sometimes adding pressure can be good. You know, let's add that pressure on ourselves. Let's talk about how this team hasn't been able to make that jump, how they say the bench hasn't been [good], how all of us came from different situations -- whether it's Dwight being waived by Brooklyn; Jeff, he's been on like four or five teams in the past four or five years; me, playing for my pops. Everybody. Throw that doubt in there. You know what I mean? All that's going to do is just motivate us to all come together as one. I don't see why this team can't do that. We have so much talent. I really do feel like we can make a push this year and surprise people.
CBS: Do you talk about specific goals or is it more about just trying to jell?
AR: We have so many new pieces. We've been playing a whole different style this year: It's all 3s and layups and we're playing at a higher pace. He's emphasized 3s, 3s, 3s. That's how we play in the West. That's how we're playing here now. It's not really hard for me to adjust, but I think right now it's just let's get together, let's jell, let's see what can happen. And then once we kind of get 15, 20 games into that season and we know what we have, what we are, from there we gotta make that push.
CBS: You've played with great point guards -- what's unique about playing with John?
AR: John is so explosive. It comes to you really quick. You'll be running on the break and you'll set up, that ball is flying at you. So you have to be ready to go, and when he gets the rebound, you gotta go. Chris [Paul] likes to get it, set the tempo, come up, now pick-and-roll. John gets it and likes to just go. So they're two different players, two different point guards. So that's the thing about John is you just gotta run with him. He's a willing passer.
CBS: This team has been dependent on John and Brad to create for so long. Is it your job to take some of that burden off them?
AR: I want to be the third guard here that helps them. They're not going to have as much pressure to create 'cause I'm here. That's my mindset. I'm going to make their job a lot easier. That's all I did last year: Me and Lou [Williams] carried that for the Clippers last year, individually creating our own and for other players. That's what they brought me here to do.
CBS: Some players say fatherhood changes who they are as people, as players. Do you relate?
AR: I guess your life just means more. As a basketball player, it always meant something, but, like, now you have someone who is dependent on you. Everything you do means more. Every mistake you make means more. That's how I look at it. It just means more to me. I want my son to look at me the way I looked at my pops. That's what I want from him.
CBS: Do your dogs like D.C.?
AR: No. They hate it. They used to have a yard and all that. Now they're on the balcony. They don't like it in D.C., but they're going to have to deal with it.
CBS: You've talked about people being jealous, hating on you especially when you were coming up. Anyone ever apologize?
AR: People used to think things of me just because I came from money. But I always tell other players on the team that's hypocritical because that's what everybody's going to think of your son. You know what I mean? But it is what it is. I've had a lot of teammates meet me and be like, "Yo, I thought you were a different way." It just sucks sometimes when people think that of you. And that's partly me: I shut everybody off from my social media. I'm not really out there like that. I don't put myself out there so people know who I am. I'm just kind of private just because I grew up always with a camera in my face because of my father, and I was highly touted and ranked in high school. So I just like to be kind of low-key off the court.
CBS: You joked at your press conference that you never played defense at Duke. How'd you become a good defender?
AR: Shit, I was in a position in New Orleans where I wasn't playing a lot my second year. One thing we didn't have was an elite defender, so I was like, if that's the only way I'm going to play, then that's the only way I'm playing. And so I ended up really forming into a defender, and then when I got my freedom and really started to find myself, back to who I was all along, an offensive player, I still picked up that trait, though. That defensive mindset. So, now, I pride myself on trying to be a two-way player. That's kind of how I became that. I'm bringing that defensive competitive spirit here, and then also obviously doing what I do: creating on offense.
CBS: Is it about film study or what?
AR: No, man, a lot of it's effort. And I've always had the defensive capabilities. I have really good lateral movement. I've always had quick lateral movement. It's more just effort and being in elite shape. Once I really took that serious, I became that. Now it's just a matter of, every year, I pride myself on being an elite defender. I want to be a guy that, when I'm guarding them, they're like, 'f—, this guy's f—ing guarding me.' That's how I feel.