Tenth Pick Tournament Round One: Austin Rivers vs. Dion Waiters

Published: June 6, 2012

A battle of the scoring combo guards ensues as Michael McNamara and Joe Gerrity choose sides.

Austin Rivers

(By Michael McNamara)

Before I start gushing about the guy I have said would be the perfect fit with Anthony Davis for months now, let me first address his competitor in this first round. I’ve got nothing against Dion Waiter, but apparently one of the most successful college coaches of the last 25 years does. A quote from his OWN coach Jim Boeheim with regard to the problems the two men had last year (per the NY Times):

He (Walters) was 100 percent wrong. He played no defense last year. Not some. None

This is a guy who coached Carmelo Anthony and never complained about his defensive effort- just for a little perspective. You think Monty is going to keep this kid on the court long enough for him to make up for it on the offensive end? Anybody remember Marcus Thornton?

But that is enough about Dion Waiters, who honestly should just be honored to make this tournament. I want to talk about Austin Rivers and all the things that he can bring to a team. First, let’s take a look at his pedigree. We all know he is the son of one of the top three coaches in the NBA, but not many people realize that Rivers was the consensus number one player in his class until Davis shot up 8 inches overnight. In fact, I hold firm to the belief that the high expecatations that come with being a coaches son and top recruit is why people hold him to standards that are simply unfair.

Rivers numbers are elite for a freshman, yet people are seemingly measuring him against three and four year guys who had less impressive freshman seasons than Rivers had. If we’re talking about the most NBA-ready guy we can get at ten, I will admit there are some that are better for the 2012-13 season, but I wasn’t under the impression that we were trying to win a title next year. I thought we were all on board with a slow build that would yield the best results long term.

My personal philosophy in the draft is that you target guys that have qualities that are rare in the league. Rivers basketball IQ and confidence to take the big shots are elite, while Waiters strikes me as the Julian Wright of shooting guards. A lot of things he does well, but where is his ELITE category? Monty said it best when talking about Rivers control of the game. (Starts at 2:50)

He’s got a really good command of the ball. A lot of guys can handle the ball, but they don’t have command. He has command of the ball…. you’re not going to be able get him from doing what he wants with the ball.

There is no prospect in this year’s draft that has the raw talent that Rivers has with the ball in his hands– and that takes some time to learn how to harness and control. Remember Manu Ginobli his first couple of seasons in San Antonio and how he drove Pop crazy? Rivers and Monty might go through those ups and downs in the first season or two, but I have confidence in Monty to teach Rivers the difference between taking good chances and taking bad chances.

Same goes for the defensive end where Rivers is a gambler, and that is the reason why I would be hesitant to grab Rivers at ten if Davis wasn’t the Hornets first pick. But, again, I go back to San Antonio and show that guys like Parker and Ginobli thrived in spite of their limitations thanks to the fact that they were paired with Duncan. Same goes here for Rivers, who also has the ability to cover the lesser of the two backcourt opponents when paired with Eric Gordon.

For those skeptical about Rivers, try to step back and view him without the overwhelming expectations. A freshman guard who went to the most successful school of the last 25 years and had the offense run through him despite only being 19 years old. He got better as the year went on, averaging over 18 PPG in his last full month, shooting 45% from the field and 41% from three. He got to the line 6.5 times a game (though he does need to hit those more consistantly) and he actually pulled down 4.5 rebounds per game down the stretch.

Does he have weaknesses? Sure. All these guys who could go ten do, otherwise they would be going two or three. But what you have to ask yourself is whether their weaknesses can be covered up or eliminated with either good coaching or by the abilities of another player- and the answer here is clearly yes. And I will close with this. Check out this video and what my opponent has to say when discussing the type of player the Hornets can get at ten. Did he say, “Dion Waiters.” No, no, I don’t think he did. Sounded kinda like Austin Rivers.

Case Closed.

Dion Waiters

(By Joe Gerrity)

If you want to talk about what Jim Boeheim has to say about his own player, let’s at least clarify what it is that he really said—that he didn’t play defense in 2010-2011. Not that he couldn’t or wouldn’t, just that he didn’t.

There’s no disputing that during Dion Waiters first year in college he struggled. By his own admission he was immature and unprepared for the challenges both on and off the court.

What Michael fails to recognize is how Waiters responded. Hardships often serve as a wake-up call, prompting people to decide what really matters, and allowing them to become more clear about their values and career aspirations. Taking a look at the evidence, it’s hard to see Waiter’s struggles as anything but a positive factor in his development.

He didn’t run from his college or his coach. He didn’t blame others indefinitely. He took a good look in the mirror, had some obviously worthwhile conversations with his mother, and took deliberate and calculated steps in the right direction. This is not a guy who runs away from a challenge, he’s one who tackles it head on. I think ESPN Draft Expert Chad Ford (who by the way ranks Waiters at #8 and Rivers at #17 on his big board) says it best–

Waiters came back in the best shape of his career. He embraced his role as the team’s sixth man. He showed off point guard skills that scouts didn’t know he had. He was Syracuse’s best player. Coach Boeheim praised him all year.

Waiter’s said of his own transformation, “I came to Syracuse a boy, I left as a man.”

Defensively Waiters was by far the best back court defender on one of the top defensive teams that Syracuse has fielded in the past decade. While the numbers from this incredibly detailed piece on Syracuse’s defense are a bit dated, you can see that Waiters was far and away the most effective of the guards.

Analyst Luke Winn, who at the time spent 25 hours watching Syracuse defense, remarked “Waiters is the team leader, creating a turnover on 5.8 percent of his possessions played, and on an amazing 38.8 percent of the possessions in which he directly engages.” At that same point in the year opponents were shooting just 33 percent on shots against him.

Austin Rivers is labeled as a gambling defender by many, including my esteemed opposition. The problem is, he’s a crappy gambler (one steal every 34 minutes). Waiters finished the year a steal percentage that nearly tripled that of Rivers (4.6 to 1.7). Not only that, but Rivers does little else well. Of Draft Express’s 13 paragraphs on Rivers, one is about defense. It starts off “On the defensive end, Rivers was not an impact player.” It doesn’t get any better from there. I’ll mention that Waiters blocked 12 times as may shots as Rivers last year, not to show that Waiters is a great blocker, but just so you realize how limited Austin’s defensive game is.

If you’re looking for a defender who gets steals once in a blue moon, by all means go with Rivers. But, if you’re looking for a defender who was among the best in college at getting steals, and breaks out in transition for easy buckets, and plays solid on-ball defense as well, his name is Dion Waiters.

This is getting offensive. We might as well go there…

There’s a reason I don’t care too much what Monty Williams has to say about Austin’s offensive game– Monty is close personal friends with the Rivers family and knows Austin so well that he feels comfortable joking about Austin’s sister’s superior athleticism. Honestly after seeing Monty’s words used I was surprised I didn’t see McNamara throw in some glowing reviews of Austin by his father, Doc Rivers.

The bit about Austin being an elite ego/big shot chucker doesn’t even sound nice in theory. I’d rather have a guy who isn’t already known as having bad shot selection taking critical shots. The comment about him having an elite basketball IQ is kind of odd as well. He doesn’t have a left hand, which is something his supposedly high basketball IQ should have had his body working on long ago. His sick crossover is rendered less effective by his inability to finish consistently with his left hand. He sure can talk the talk in press conferences, but the stats seem to indicate that he might be a better coach than player. Let’s take a look.

College PER: Waiters 26.1, Rivers 16.8

Usage Rate: Waiters 25.5, Rivers 24.1

Points per 40: Waiters 21.0, Rivers 18.7

Offensive Rating: Waiters 115.9, Rivers 104.7

Free Throw Percentage: Waiters 72.9, Rivers 65.8

Effective Field Goal Percentage: Waiters 53.3, Rivers 50.4

True Shooting Percentage: Waiters 56.5, Rivers 53.8

Assist Percentage: Waiters 21.2, Rivers 12.9

Assist/TO ratio: Waiters 1.9:1, Rivers 0.9:1

Age: Waiters is 8 months older than Rivers

As for my talk of taking Rivers the other day on Fox 8, I’ve always reserved the right to change my mind. Recently much of my research about who we should be looking at with the 10 pick was actually done by my opponent, our resident draft expert. But after taking a in-depth look at Waiters and Rivers independently, the only thing I can think is that Michael has overlooked just how good Waiters can be, and is overly optimistic about how Rivers will develop. It’s not that I don’t think Rivers will be solid, it’s just that Waiters already is, and will continue to be, the better player. As one GM said, “There are really only two potential superstars in this draft. One is a sure thing — freshman Anthony Davis. The other one is Waiters.”

The sixth man out of Syracuse not only leads Rivers in just about every meaningful statistical category, he’s already proven that he’s more than capable of dealing with adversity, that he’s willing and able to embrace the sixth man role, and that he can create turnovers at a high level while holding his man to a low shooting percentage.



  1. George

    June 6, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Waiters>Rivers. Sorry Michael.

  2. Bradley Schneller

    June 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Rivres could learn the PG position and play SG when EJ is out. Rivers is only 19 and a son’s coach which probably means he’s very coach-able.

    Rivers > Waiters

  3. Bob

    June 6, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Great argument Joe. However, this team needs a game changer outside of Gordon. If Gordon gets injured, or worse, doesn’t resign with us, we need a spark from the wings. Waiters is solid, but his ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Rivers.

  4. Paul

    June 6, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Why did these two have to be matched up? This is probably the tougher choice for me. I lean slightly towards Waiters, but I’d be happy with either one.

    • Paul

      June 6, 2012 at 9:21 am


  5. DownUnder

    June 6, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Daaaamn! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P5pmkJzAjo
    I thought the case for Austin was in the bag but Joe came right back and really made a strong case for Dion. It’s a real tough one and I just keep flip flopping, Rivers did exceptional for a Freshman, Waiters was more exceptional but in his second year.

    • CharmedHive

      June 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      I agree! I was totally team Rivers, but this changed my mind..huh. Still confused. Really liking Waiters too now!

      Good job on this article, you guys!! Keeping us fans thinking

  6. LaNative

    June 6, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I don’t know I keep flip-flopping. I’m just glad the Hornets aren’t depending on me for answers (lol). However, here’s my take. I’m more impressed with Austin’s Dad than I am with Austin. I tend to think that Doc will want his son to do well in the pros and will be a good off-the-court voice for Austin and will continue to teach him even in the off-season. It can be tricky when you’re a close friend of the family but I think both Monty and Doc are too professional for that to become a problem or a distraction. Plus Austin has been surrounded by the NBA all of his life with his Dad being a player and coach. I like the fact that he isn’t afraid to take the big shot but I’m equally cautious until his shot selection becomes better. Although I don’t know much about Waiters game, I like that he has more experience and showed improvement over his two years at SU. Whether or not that translates to the NBA is another thing but I have the utmost faith and confidence in Dell and Monty to have good judge of character and Monty’s coaching ability to drive people to perform at their maximum. Neither is my personal choice but we need scoring and I wouldn’t be mad at either of these as a pick.

  7. kempleton

    June 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Hey Mike, Your first 3 attempts on the player’s last name are: Waiter … Walters … Waiters. 🙂

    Well, Joe makes it clear that statistically Waiters is better than Rivers. Both went to great schools. However, Rivers was the starting guard of Duke while Waiters was the backup guard of Syracuse. That would make a huge difference in stats. So, I do not think we can go by those stats here. More steals against the second unit of the opponents don’t mean much to me.

    Sorry…Rivers wins this round for me.

    • Joe Gerrity

      June 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Waiters didn’t just play against second units. He was clearly the best guard and finished games against the other teams best.

    • Michael McNamara

      June 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      Good catch kempleton. A freudian slip perhaps because I don’t respect Waiters enough to get his name right? If you notice, Joe gets Rivers right everytime because he knows he is a BEAST!

  8. Brandon

    June 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

    It is tough. With a player like Eric Gordon, it’s hard to find a complimentary point guard next to him. Jarrett Jack looked so uncomfortable with EG. It’s hard to picture kendall marshall next to him because Marshall has been a ball-dominant, playmaker since high school. Eric Gordon wants to bring the ball up and be the pick and roll guard. That’s why out of Lillard,Marshall,Vasquez, Rivers,Jack, or even waiters at combo, Rivers is the best long-term for the backcourt. He’ll start on the bench, and work his way. I’ve studied this kid since his Winter Park days. He can catch and shoot which is what you need with Gordon. Monty has already talked to Rivers about being a willing passer. My dream scenario, is to package ariza, vaquez, and next years first for another lottery pick, and get sullinger. Maybe amnesty okafor. Rivers/Jack, Gordon, Aminu, Sullinger, and Davis is a great foundation to work with

    • nola hustle

      June 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      good point. with ej running the pick and roll with ad, smith, ayon, etc. a major need for the wings is strong jumpshooting. Watching the spurs run this year shows what having clutch shooting on the floor can do for you. on that end, edge rivers.

    • ImSorryMonty

      June 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Am I missing something? When did we see Jack and Gordon play poorly together? They played a grand total of ONE game last year while Gordon had a bum knee and EG dropped 22 and Jack dropped 19/11 (T-season high in assists). I not only think that they can work well together, I think they genuinely want to work well together. It’s also understated that Jack shoots the 3 fairly well for a PG and it’s not unfathomable to foresee a 37-39% 3pt season from the Gentleman with more wide open looks due to the coverage on EG10.

      • NOLA Hustle

        June 6, 2012 at 7:36 pm

        i was agreeing with the need for shooting alongside gordon. i think you are right about jack being a decent shooter. don’t think much of him in tems of moving the ball and making others better. i like him off the bench backing up kendall marshall

  9. Seth

    June 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    if you actually watched waiters or followed syracuse basketball, you would realize he worked on his relationship with Boeheim his sophomore year and was one of the better perimeter defense. Better slasher than Rivers and more athletic.

    • nola hustle

      June 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      yes, you should not evaluate a player using a coach-speak quote. everything coaches say should be taken with one thousand grains of salt

  10. Hollis21

    June 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Such a tough decision. One thing I saw someone throw out that I love. Wouldn’t it be great if we could trade #10 to HOU for#14 and #16 or #14 and something else, and then get Rivers there? Then have an extra pick or asset.

    However, I can’t see Houston pulling on that. I like both of these guys, alot. The upside for Rivers is unbelievable. He’s a coach’s son and I feel he’s going to push to be a better player, and Monty and company will be pushing him as well. Waiters I think is better now and I would guess he has a better rookie campaign. However, I believe 5 years from now Rivers will be above Waiters in terms of their positive impact on the game. And the fact is, the Hornets are likely a couple years from true contention. By the time this team will be ready to contend, I expect Rivers to be better.

    Therefore, my vote is Rivers. However, I’d like either of these guys. Waiters grew up alot in his 2nd season. And I am just a huge fan of what Rivers should become.

    • nola hustle

      June 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      so many nice prospects that trading down is definitely something you know dell is giving strong consideration to

  11. ImSorryMonty

    June 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I do not understand the rush to get rid of a PG that shoots 45/35/85, doesn’t turn the ball over, is an average-above average defender, great leader, great recruiter, great competitor, great guy. Give the guy a damn chance to work with a SG that isn’t Marco fricking Belinelli.

    That being said, I love Austin Rivers to fill the Manu Ginobili mold and backup Gordon/Jack. With wings like Henry, Aminu, Ariza, and bigs like Ayon, Smith as your backups, you have more than capable defenders. Even if he is below average as a defender, he will grow into a 15 ppg scorer that a defensive second unit badly needs. You can’t underestimate the value of having a natural LEADER on your second unit that has the confidence to carry it like a natural born starter.

    • NOLA Hustle

      June 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      jack is an amazing teammate, great character. hope they keep him along with the rest of the current group to learn the younguns good teamwork and work ethic. i hope jack is retained as a backup 2 rather than starting one

  12. chrisbusby

    June 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Really if u got the chance to get the num ber 1 player and number two player coming out of high school get them because if players were still coming out of high school they prolly be the top picks. Rivers can get past any defender. He is gonna be great in the NBA whoever does get him is gonna be very very happy they got him because he will become a superstar.

  13. Jae504

    June 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I see no Problem in drafting Rivers at #10..He has everything you want in a Nba player..A Superstar at that..I agree with Michael 100% even though I believe Waiters will be a Very Good Player

  14. mojart

    June 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks…im on the austin rivers bandwagon too…^^,…..EG and austin wil compliment each other well…wid AD and oak at the interior and remember we have ariza too on defense i think rivers can thrive wid dis team….doc and monty wil guide dis kid just like wat coach K did to him in duke

  15. 504ever

    June 6, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Recent Quote Q & A from Chad Ford. points out what is wrong with Rivers.

    “Why is Austin Rivers not considered a franchise player? He can flat out score and that’s what you do as Franchise Player!”

    Chad Ford “IF he was an elite athlete, then yes, he’d be a Top 5 pick. But lots of concerns about who he’ll guard at the next level.”

  16. Josh

    June 7, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I would take Austin Rivers. I really like Dion Waiters, though. I think that Rivers has more versatility and is superb in at least one facet of the game. He would be a great combo guard/6th man. If Gordon gets hurt, Rivers would take over his position.

  17. kempleton

    June 8, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Dion Waiters withdrew from the combine and he cancelled all the workouts with teams. It looks like he agreed with a team. We should forfeit Waiters and let Rivers win this round in our bracket. 🙂

    • kempleton

      June 8, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Wow, these guys at the combine speak very highly of Dion Waiters!

  18. Hoschkabosch

    June 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    You should here what Duke fans think of Rivers. 100% of them were glad he left early, they all thought he was selfish and killed the team.

  19. Troy

    June 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    UGH at all the fools on the rivers bandwagon. just like hoschkabosch said, dude is out for his own points and does NOT improve the team. he has no idea of how to pass the ball off a drive, he was among the leaders in charges since he would continually barrel into a planted defender. he also doesn’t have elite hops or handsize or athleticism, which will lead to his shot getting blocked more frequently at the pro level. his efficiency is remarkably poor, and his outside stroke isn’t at the level of beal or jenkins or barton. all these holes in his offensive game, not to mention his defense is poor to non-existent. he plays like wade, reaching and gambling but with no size or strength to shut a guy down. he reminds me of jamal crawford, who is a USEful player but not altogether a winning player, and NOT a starter in the pros.

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