Tenth Pick Tournament Semi-Finals: Austin Rivers vs. Damian Lillard

Published: June 20, 2012

In our first semifinals matchup, the two remaining guards face off as shooting guard Austin Rivers takes on point guard Damian Lillard.

The Case for Austin Rivers

(By: Michael McNamara)

If Lillard and Rivers slide by Portland and Toronto, there is a very good chance that Monty and Dell could be having this debate as the clock winds down. Frankly, I don’t think they could go wrong with either guy and they should be happy that they have the opportunity to choose between the two. I understand that it is easier to say Lillard because Eric Gordon is listed on your program as a shooting guard and Damian Lillard is listed as a point guard, but if it were up to me, I would take Rivers and wouldn’t think twice about it.

For me it comes down to which one I think has a better chance of becoming a star- not a good player who fills a position of need, but a star. I look around the NBA and I start to list the guys who are considered stars, superstars, etc. and almost every single one of them has the pedigree. They were McDonald’s All-Americans, top-five recruits coming out of high school, went to major universities, and/or elite foreign prospects. Seriously, look at the superstars in the league and tell me who doesn’t fit that criteria.

Should Damian Lillard be penalized because four years ago he was the 42nd ranked point guard in his high school class (42nd point guard, not 42nd player mind you)? Of course not. In fact, I commend him for working so hard to prove the naysayers wrong and for having a sensational college career. Again, I think he will be solid and envision Jameer Nelson type of numbers when he reaches his peak. But, I can’t see any way he can reach star or superstar status. If he does, he will have broken the mold and reached star status in a way that nobody else in this generation has up until this point. I just don’t bet on things like that.

Conversely, Rivers was at the top of his class. Does this mean he is a lock to be a star? Of course not. All bachelors are male, but not all males are bachlelors. In other words, he has one of the seemingly necessary criteria, but that doesn’t mean he has the rest of the components needed. Necessary, but not sufficient. For every Kobe Bryant that lives up to the hype, there is a Felipe Lopez. Who? Exactly!

But I am admitting that I am ready to go for the home run here. And if I haven’t lost you already with this obscure argument, then I am going to right now and I am fine with that. Here goes. I don’t care how he fits with Eric Gordon long term, because I don’t want Eric Gordon here long term. That’s right, I said it! When have we ever seen it work out when there is a question about whether a guy is a max guy or not, then some team gives him the max and is happy 2-3 years down the road? Rudy Gay? Joe Johnson? Amare Stoudamire? Nene? Time and time again we see this debate where fans go: “Should we pay Player X max money? I know he isn’t worth it, but I don’t want to lose him for nothing!”

Don’t you think the Hawks and Knicks would prefer “nothing” right now? Wouldn’t Memphis love 17 million a year that they could spend somewhere else? Didn’t Denver trade Nene just three months after giving him max money? Gordon isn’t worth it, and at #10 we can get a guy who can be just as dynamic of a scorer in three years at 20% the price if we give him the reps he needs to expand his game and reach his potential. Sign and trade Gordon for some pieces to put around these guys and/or picks and let’s start this process with AD and Rivers as the building blocks from day one plus TONS of flexibility to get them the support they need.

I know this won’t appeal to the majority of you, but let’s be honest, nearly 70% voted for Lillard over Marshall last week despite never watching the man play. He is the Cinderella story this year, and everybody else has had the spotlight on them so long that their weaknesses are being overexposed. Not Lillard. The backlash hasn’t started yet. He’s the Ryan Leaf and RGIII of this draft. The known products get bashed because it’s not fun to talk about what they do well anymore. And this is why people get tempted to take Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning.

But eventually people come to their senses and remember why one guy was a super elite recruit coming into this process and the other was just another guy. The super elite prospect is the safer bet to be the super elite pro, but he’s not as trendy as the new guy- I get it. I just gotta hope we have finally reached the point where the Lillard backlash begins.

The Case for Damian Lillard

(By Mason Ginsberg)

We’re into the semifinals, where the top-ranked point guard in the 2012 draft class, Damian Lillard, takes on Duke shooting guard Austin Rivers. In the first round, I discussed Lillard’s skill set on both sides of the ball and the glowing reviews of his NBA potential from some of the top draft analysts. Last round, I dove into Damian’s impressive advanced statistics in college and compared those numbers to other college players who project to have fantastic NBA careers. If you want to refresh your memory on everything Lillard brings to the table in any of those areas, go ahead and click back to those earlier matchups before reading on. As for this face-off today, I have saved the most relevant and significant part of Lillard’s game until now – his unique and ideal fit with the New Orleans Hornets.

On offense, Lillard is the perfect third young piece to combine with both Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. One of the main weaknesses of last season’s Hornets team with Gordon on the court was the lack of another perimeter scoring threat to take some of the pressure off of him. With Lillard as Gordon’s backcourt mate, that concern would be all but alleviated. Lillard made 41% of his three-point attempts in college, and projects to be a solid shooter in the pros (his 88.7% free throw percentage is a good indication of this as well). With he and Gordon both on the court, opponents would have their hands full guarding two guards who have the ability to score in so many ways. I get excited just thinking about the offensive potential of those two playing together.

To be honest, when thinking about Lillard playing for the Hornets, there’s only one thing that gets me more excited than an offensive attack led by he and Gordon – the thought of a Lillard and Anthony Davis pick and roll. Seriously, the talents of those two were made for each other. Walker Beeken from Draft Express said it best:

“The large emphasis of the pick-and-roll game in today’s NBA bodes well for Lillard, as he’s shown to be very effective as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations. His ability to smoothly pull up off the dribble from deep range makes it difficult for his defenders to go underneath the screen, while his burst off the dribble allows him to turn the corner quickly and get into the paint.”

Now, take that wonderful imagery and add in Anthony Davis and his ridiculous wingspan setting the screen and rolling to the basket. How on Earth do you stop that? I have two words for opponents trying to figure out how – good luck.

Compare what you just read to what the Hornets would be like if they drafted Austin Rivers. If you just got really sad, I don’t blame you one bit, because I did too. Rivers is not and never will be a point guard, so don’t even get caught up in the idea of him playing alongside Gordon. It may happen from every now and then, but Gordon isn’t a pure point guard, so it simply isn’t a sustainable combination for extended periods of time. The best Austin Rivers could ever be for this Hornets team (or any team, in my opinion) is an OJ Mayo-esque sixth man. I’ll save the rest of my anti-Rivers sentiments for tomorrow’s rebuttals, but for now, know that New Orleans can do much, much better than him, and the name of that alternative is quite clearly Damian Lillard.

Each Writer will present their counterarguments to their opponents claims tomorrow, and on that piece you will cast your vote.


  1. Pingback: Tenth Pick Tournament Semi-Finals: Rivers vs. Lillard Counterpoints | New Orleans Hornets | Hornets247.com

  2. Pingback: Tenth Pick Tournament Finals: Damian Lillard vs. Trade Up | New Orleans Hornets | Hornets247.com

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