Tenth Pick Tournament Semi-Finals: Rivers vs. Lillard Counterpoints

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Published: June 21, 2012

Yesterday, each man made his arguments. Now, each man counters his opponent. Plus you get the chance to vote for the man you want to see in the Finals

If you have not read yesterday’s original arguments, check them out here first.

The Case for Rivers Part Two

(By: Michael McNamara)

It seems like the fundamental difference between Mason and I is that he is drafting for fit, while I am willing to swing for the fences on a guy who has a chance to be a star in this league. Mason will have you believe that Lillard is the perfect fit next to Gordon, while I am really not all too concerned with whether we bring Gordon back or not. The face of this franchise and the guy who will make or break our title hopes is Anthony Davis, and as far as I am concerned, the only thing that would keep me from drafting the best player on the board is if he were a bad fit with Davis. That does not describe Rivers.

In fact, Rivers is the perfect compliment to Davis in my opinion. His boldness and borderline cockiness off-sets the humbleness of SkyNet. His scoring mentality and desire to have the ball in his hands late allows Davis to concentrate on the strengths of his game. Rivers quick first step and ability to get to the bucket will result in plenty of drive and dish opportunities for Davis, along with some easy put-backs when Rivers draws multiple defenders.

Mason is also quite fond of throwing stats in his argument without prefacing them with the fact that Lillard has been out of high school for four years and is playing in a conference that is to the ACC what the NBDL is to the NBA. Seriously, if I showed you some inflated numbers from a guy in the NBDL, would you assume that he would have even close to the same impact in the NBA? Then, why are we glossing over the fact that Lillard’s numbers would have been drastically reduced if he were playing in a real conference or that Lillard’s freshman numbers in that junior varsity conference were worse than Rivers freshman numbers in a real conference? People say that I didn’t show what Rivers does better than Lillard, but that is because 21-year old Rivers doesn’t exist yet. That version of him does a lot of things better than Lillard.

In their freshman years, they were dead even in FG%, Lillard was 1% higher in 3-pt percentage, eerily similar in rebs, assists, steals, and turnovers, but scored 4 less points per game in four fewer minutes per game. And yes, those stats are close- but remember, one was the top player on a team in the ACC while the other was in the Big Sky. That makes Rivers’ freshman year infinitely more impressive, and that is all we really have to go on with these two.

Can I say with certainty that Rivers would average 35 per game if you put the 21 year old version of him in the Big Sky? Can I claim with certainty that Lillard’s numbers would have been more pedestrian in a real conference? Of course I can’t, but I think we can all agree that each of those premises are somewhat likely.

Lastly, I take some offense to the claim Mason makes that “the best Austin Rivers can be is an OJ Mayo-esque sixth man.” Where does he get that from? Oh, because Draft Express lists that as the best case scenario for him? Frankly I don’t see any similarities between Mayo and Rivers, on or off the court. What I see is a guy who has been around the game all his life, who is determined to succeed and has the pedigree to be a star in this league. Whether he gets there or not depends on numerous circumstances, but I would be willing to take that gamble if I were the Hornets.

The Case for Damian Lillard Part Two

(By: Mason Ginsberg)

I’d like to begin my counter-argument by quoting one of our seemingly most knowledgeable readers, 504ever. In response to part one of the Rivers vs. Lillard debate yesterday, he said:

“If Lillard is even available at 10 we will be lucky, and we should pick him and hold on to him. There is no question Lillard is the better talent and he plays the position of greatest need on the Hornets. So how do you counteract that argument? You can’t! So you make some crazy argument about Rivers’ pedigree, like he is a household pet. Then you make some crazy Gordon argument claiming the Hornets will give Gordon max money and we don’t need him anyway. Then you offer your unsupported opinion that Rivers will be a better NBA player and call Lillard nasty names like “Ryan Leaf”. Here is the question. Can anyone find one word, let alone a sentence, that Michael wrote above explaining anything Rivers does better than Lillard? Neither can I. If there was something, don’t you think Michael would have mentioned it?”

Boom! Maybe he should be writing for this site instead of me, because if I was forced to reduce my argument for Lillard and against Rivers into one paragraph, it would look very similar to what is pasted above. Someone please tell me – what does Rivers do better than Lillard? Actually, expand this question beyond Lillard – what about Rivers’ resumé proves that he deserves to be a top-10 pick?

In order to make the “level of competition” argument as close to irrelevant as possible, I picked out some stat categories that aren’t terribly dependant on who you play, and more related to each player’s unique basketball skills (I included PER which doesn’t really adhere to that requirement, but only because the massive difference between the two players transcends level of competition).

  FT% 3P% REB% TO% PER
Lillard 88.7 40.9 8.7 10.7 34.0
Rivers 65.8 36.5 5.8 13.9 16.9

One of the best ways to evaluate a player’s shooting talent and try to guess how that player will fare at the next level is by using his free throw percentage and 3-point percentage. Lillard demolishes Rivers in both categories, and neither have much to do with opposing defenses. The reason is obvious in the case of free throws, and most shooters attempt the majority of their 3-pointers when they are being poorly defended no matter who their opponent. To be honest, while these numbers make me confident in Lillard, they do even more to worry me about Rivers.

To get some more data, I looked at all qualifying college freshmen over the past 3 seasons with usage rates over 20% and 3-point percentages under 37%, and checked to see if there were any names that I recognized who many think will be successful in the NBA. I did indeed – guys like Alec Burks, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Tony Wroten Jr. were all present. Unfortunately, there is one key difference between those guys and Rivers – the first three had PERs 22 or above, and even Wroten’s was still above 20. Rivers? Hardly above average at 16.9. Those superior PERs, in a nutshell, mean that those players do other things that make them special apart from shooting the basketball (and they all played in major conferences, too). As a 6’5” shooting guard (and don’t tell me he will one day be able to play point guard, because his tunnel vision makes him quite possibly the weakest “first round talent” in this draft in the area of getting his teammates involved), Rivers will only be a special player if he is able to shoot along with his ability to attack the rim. Given the evidence that we have to the contrary, it makes no sense to gamble on a player with a pick this high when the Hornets could go with a player with such a wide skill set as Lillard with the numbers to back it up.

One more relevant point, based on yesterday’s trade – forget the notion of getting rid of Eric Gordon. By clearing the contracts of Ariza and Okafor/buying out Rashard Lewis, it becomes increasingly likely that the Hornets will keep their star shooting guard. In fact, as I noted in the comments section of Michael’s post breaking the news of the trade, this deal could even keep teams from throwing big offers at Gordon. In restricted free agency, when another team makes an offer to a restricted FA, that cap space is tied up and unusable until the player’s original team decides whether or not they want to match the offer. With so much cap space, the rest of the NBA may assume that the Hornets are willing to match any offer, making it a poor idea to tie up cap space in a player that they probably won’t get while the best free agent alternatives are snatched up by other teams. Therefore, don’t let Mr. McNamara try to sell you on Gordon being let go, because the odds of that happening just became even smaller, while the odds of the Hornets getting him for less than a max contract just went up. While this news makes Rivers even less of a fit with the Hornets, I have also made it quite clear based on the facts presented above that, regardless of fit, Lillard is simply the more talented player with the brighter future. If the Hornets’ choice with the 10th pick comes down to these two players, the decision should be a no-brainer.

Note: The point of this tournament is to choose between two players under the assumption that they will both be available when the Hornets are on the clock with the 10th pick. Please cast your vote based on your opinions of each player and the arguments provided by the writers as if this will be the case; try to refrain from voting for one over the other simply because you think the other player won’t be available at pick #10.

67 comments
Ben
Ben

Well now that Dwill has said that he will only go to the mavs or nets, this question becomes much easier. Lilliard is a superior talent and can run the point. I like rivers so I wouldn't mind trading next years 1 and 46 for the rockets 14 or 16 to get rivers or zeller where they won't be expected to do as much

Ian H
Ian H

You make all solid points but if you are bringing up Colston in comparison to Lillard that's truly unfair to Lillard. Their situations are miles and miles away. Lillard will be top ten based on production, skillset, and athleticism regardless of what we or the Hornets think. Colston had none of those qualities leading into the draft but he lucked up and got with a coach with a vision to use Colston's 2 elite qualities and that's his size and strong hands. There were 30 other teams that Colston doesn't make it out their training camp let alone become a household name. Colston's equal in the NBA would be Ben Wallace. He fell into a great situation in Detroit like Colston fell into the perfect situation in New Orleans. But I agree Austin isn't Doc, but he is 19 and has several years to become better than Doc.

VeezyV
VeezyV

But for real, how is rivers different from thornton

Ryan
Ryan

Lillard vs Tyshawn Taylor Would you please fill in the missing puzzles? raw data Similarities: -Seniors (Lillard not technically, but played 4yrs) -fg% -assist avg -stl -same minutes Differences: -Level of competition -Lillard has confidence edge? -Lillard 3more fta -Lillard 3 more 3pta -As a result, Lillard 8pt more avg -Lillard much better rebounder -defense? Tyshawn? -taylor more length -Lillard better vertical How come it is speculated Lillard might go at #5 whereas Taylor 20 spots lower? What causes the huge discrepancy?

LaNative
LaNative

People are talking about Lillard being a scoring point guard but isn't that what the league has come to? Didn't CP3 have to score more? Russell Westbrook? Lillard has a superior work ethic and I think he will work hard to prove that he belongs because of so much doubt about the competition he played against. Yes River played against better competition but that doesn't mean that he's the better competitor. I don't like to use Saints references while talking about the Hornets but look at Colston (my favorite Saints player). Where you play or the level of competition gives you some indication of what a player can do but it doesn't tell you exactly what he will do. I mean no disrespect to Rivers (or his fans) but I don't think he's a good fit for the Hornets. Rivers has a great pedigree but he isn't Doc.

mojart
mojart

breaking news: lillard resist to work out for the hornets who hold the 10th pick in the nba draft....source: sam amick of SI.com so u still want a guy who does'nt want to play here!

mojart
mojart

and by the way lillard play in the BIG SKY TOURNAMENT and rivers play in the ACC!lillard is RODNEY STUCKEY 2.0!do u like dat in ur team??????????

mojart
mojart

LET'S SUPPORT AUSTIN RIVERS!PLEASE VOTE FOR AUSTIN RIVERS......so many FA point guard out there and many are available via trade...we need scorer on this team!we are a very god defensive team but we are not that good offensively!jeremy lin,felton,dragic,lowry,dwill,brooks,nash,kidd are all FA or can be had via trade....and we can even draft a PG at 46!machado,satoransky i think should still be there.... If I'am dell i will try to lure linsanity here in big easy bcoz he is so good in transition and a willing passer and the fans would love him as well....NY can't retain him they are over the cap!

NOLA_Fredo
NOLA_Fredo

Tough call but I opted for Rivers over Lillard. To me, there's two ways a prospect who is drafted can help you out: 1) he develops and becomes a part of your title-contending team or 2) he develops and you can trade him for other commodities. Looking at the two, I think Rivers would be the most likely to remain a commodity (even if he doesn't develop under Monty) that he could be moved onto another team. Plus if the option is Potential Russell Westbrook vs Potential Jason Terry, well, I gotta swing for the Westbrook option.

David
David

I like both of them. I like Lillard a lot more. I like Zeller, but I like him at 16. Not at 10. I like Leonard, his production was decent, his combine was excellent, his interviews and athleticism are perfect. They only issue I have with him is I heard he was a big P***y. I don't want no big p***y.

NOH Domination
NOH Domination

I don't feel like Michael's arguments are all that convincing, but I don't care. I'm taking Rivers!

Jordan J.
Jordan J.

Very off topic, but apparently the Rockets have a trade in the works with the 16th pick and Dalembert.. Demps?

Rocco
Rocco

At first I was not a fan of trying for Lillard at ten. But, after the draft combine, and those eye popping measurements he posted, and his sky high stats from Weber(albeit against lesser opponents), I think the kid is worth a shot. He's athletic, and his college coach calls him the hardest working player he's ever coached. The big gamble with him is can he evolve from being a shoot first point guard to one who distributes more. If not you will have a more athletic Jarrett Jack, if he does grow his game, he could be in the mold of a Russell Westbrook. In any event, he worht a shot at #10 (if he's still there).

tmb1978
tmb1978

I would rather Rivers than Lillard, just because of the level of talent. Both guys are used to being "the man". Besides, if Lillard is so good, why did they lose to MONTANA in their conference tournament. Really, MONTANA???? Meanwhile, Rivers was busy in the ACC tournament against one of the best defensive teams in college (FSU). 17 pts. (leading all scorers) and 6 rebs. against those guys and the clutch 3 against UNC during the season is more impressive than averaging 24 against rec league type talent. BTW, will this argument be archived to look at if we end up picking Marshall and he's a star? Does anyone realize Jason Kidd is a free agent? That would be a helluva move to pick him up. I'm sure both will enjoy throwing alleyoops to "Le Brow".

Johnny
Johnny

What y'all think about the hornets trading the 10th for Houston 14&16 picks and we draft zeller then get perry jones III b/c at 16 PJIII is not a risk and he could be big if he does reach his potential

nola hustle
nola hustle

now even more than pre-trade, best case scenario may be for lillard or even drummond to drop to us, and trade down we probably don't need #10 to get rivers, zeller or even Marshall now that we have big holes at the 3 and 5, we may need to go with quantity of assets

Mickey Chatman
Mickey Chatman

Why don't we stop looking at Rivers as replacing Gordon. Rivers can be a top 6th man in the league. He will provide instant scoring against other teams 2nd unit. And if Gordon get injured he can step up. I don't feel as though Lillard fits on this team cause he is not a pass first Pg. plus I don't care what his numbers say. He played at WEBER STATE!!!!! That's like a high school player crushing middle schoolers and then being compared to another high school player (Rivers) who competes with other high schoolers.

kempleton
kempleton

Mike had very good arguments. Donald Sloan had amazing stats in NBDL, but we have seen him on the court playing for our Hornets as a very different player. So, stats are not everything. So, Mike is saying that Lillard is risky, Mason says that Rivers is risky. Who would I pick? Hmmm... :) They now think Lillard might go as high as #6 to Portland. Do the Blazers see something in him that Mike does not see, or do they ignore Rivers? If Rivers is that good of a potential why do we see Drummond at Top10 but not Rivers at top 10? (Of course, Kobe was not Top 10 either...) This gets interesting. Vote for the record (NCAA scoring champ) or vote for the potential? What if Lillard has better potential in the NBA and Rivers become a mediocre player? BTW, I have a question: Have we invited Lillard for a workout? We have heard that he performed very well at other workouts but have Monthy and Dell seen him? No! Well. they should...

Chuck
Chuck

“If Lillard is even available at 10 we will be lucky, and we should pick him and hold on to him. There is no question Lillard is the better talent and he plays the position of greatest need on the Hornets. So how do you counteract that argument? You can’t!" WHAT??? I can totally counteract that by saying Rivers is the better talent. Rivers was a top 3 prospect when he came out of high school...less than a year ago! That's why he played for Duke, a powerhouse school year after year. I also take issue with the notion that pg is the spot of greatest need. We have Jack, who is a serviceable guy that I could live with for a year or two while the team develops. Throughout history, it's rare that a point guard is a guy the team really leans on. Except for maybe Parker with the Spurs and Isiah with the Pistons (and Magic in later years), point guards usually aren't go to guys (obviously I'm excluding the current finals, even though I'm praying the Thunder come back and Westbrook isn't even a traditional point guard, he plays off the ball half the time). Historically, championship team's point guards are usually role players who have high basketball IQ and can hit big shots. Lillard can probably fill the role that Terry had on the Mavs last year, but that's not what people seem to want him to do. If we draft a point guard, I want it to be a guy who can get the ball to the real stars of the team (Davis, Gordon, player to be named later) and knows his role, not someone we try to shoehorn into stardom. Kendall Marshall would be fine, but please not Lillard, who could be another Adam Morrison for all we know

Mr. West
Mr. West

Awesome arguments from both sides... Voted for Lillard, for real this time.

Jimmy Johns
Jimmy Johns

I don't see how you can use those stats and say they are not dependant on who you play. I watch a ton of college ball and that is just not an accurate statement to say that the majority of people shoot 3s while being poorly defended. River's was being guarded by better defenders. His 3 point % should be lower. The quality of opponent is going to factor heavily into both players rebounding %, same with turnover percentage %. Lillard played against worse players and can get more rebounds. River's played on a better team and didn't need to rebound as much. And he also played against better rebounders. Rivers played against better defenders than lillard and it makes sense that his % is higher. And PER isn't really a good stat to go by for college players in general. I think Lillard is a better overall prospect, but that part of the argument bothered me.

Jay Dogon
Jay Dogon

The problem I have with Rivers is that he can only HOPE to be as good as EJ is. Gordon is already a top 5 SG in this league and Rivers may never reach that level. You point out that Rivers is clutch and that is true on the college level but Gordon has already proven that he gets better in the 4th Quarter in the NBA. Of course the injury history is a concern but what's good about it is that none of them are nagging injuries or seem to be ones that will effect him next season (Plus I truly believe the Hornets sat him much longer than they had to) If the argument is, pair Lillard with Gordon and Skynet vs Rivers and Skynet I think we all know which one wins....

Ian H
Ian H

This is tough as these were the 2 guys I was most interested in the Hornets drafting. I have been standing on the table for Lillard since Round 1 but when I look at the construction of the roster and potential lineup I really feel the Hornets are either going to make a run at D-Will or are in the process to load up the following year for CP3 that drafting Lillard becomes a wasted pick. On the contrary no matter who you sign Rivers has a role on the team as a Jason Terry/Manu Ginobili type guy and a solid backup plan if/when Gordon gets hurt. I think Lillard has all the tools but how long will he adjust to the level of competition while Rivers' game and first step will make him a 15 point a game scorer as a rookie. His game is built for the NBA especially as a 3rd or 4th option.

George
George

The arguments on this site have scared me away from both these prospects now. Waiters is looking more intriguing.