Accepting Austin Rivers

By:
Published: June 29, 2012
rivers

Mason comes to terms with the Hornets’ 10th pick in the draft and sells himself (and hopefully some of the other skeptics out there) on how Rivers can succeed with the Hornets.

Most of you know that I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to make this post. I guess I still don’t really “have to”, but I feel like I owe it to all of you to come forward after the one guy that I truly wanted the Hornets to avoid with the 10th pick was the player that they ended up selecting. I’ll briefly touch on what worries me about him, but afterwards spend the majority of the time discussing how he can become the successful third piece of this new young Hornets “Big 3.”

First, my two biggest concerns. If the Hornets drafted him to serve primarily as a shooting guard, then I strongly dislike the pick. He isn’t a great jump shooter and only shot 66% from the free throw line last season, and if he’s going to play off the ball, that just won’t work. Defenders will simply sag off of him on defense to keep him from penetrating, forcing him to shoot jumpers. He can certainly improve in this area, but it’s not an easy thing to do. Additionally, his inconsistent defensive intensity has been brought into question before, which naturally reminds me of a talented former Hornets shooting guard by the name of Marcus Thornton. Though he was instant offense, Thornton didn’t give the type of effort that Monty Williams expected from his players on defense, and ended up getting shipped out to Sacramento. If he doesn’t buy into Monty’s defense-first philosophy in New Orleans, that close relationship that the two of them currently possess could go sour quickly.

Though I believe that the Hornets had better options at pick #10, that doesn’t mean I think that Austin Rivers has no chance of being a successful NBA player. So, how can this Rivers experiment work? In the team’s post-draft Q&A with Monty Williams and GM Dell Demps, Monty was asked what I believe to be the million dollar (more like multi-million dollar, actually) question in terms of his NBA value – will Rivers play point guard in the NBA? If Williams can turn him into a point guard by getting him to work on his court vision and passing ability (not an easy task), then the pick could absolutely work. The Hornets head coach’s response was one that I expected; he voiced his belief that Rivers “can one day play the point guard position”, yet would not label him as such. This makes sense, because while his biggest strengths translate better as a point guard, he also has a long way to go to be effective at that position. At this point, if I had to pick a current NBA player who Rivers’ style of play reminds me of, it’s Tyreke Evans.

The best part about that comparison for me is that we still don’t know exactly how good Evans will be in the NBA, so it’s not necessary to project exactly how good Rivers can be. Both players are similar in size – at 6’5″ and 203 lbs, Rivers is an inch shorter and about 15 pounds lighter than Evans. Each player has a relatively broken jumpshot, but both make up for it by their impressive ability to get to the basket off the dribble (though both have experienced problems with taking care of the ball). Evans’ inability to run an offense and efficiently distribute have actually resulted in his changing of position from point guard to a wing player, though, which is what Rivers desperately needs to avoid. While his current passing ability isn’t as good as Evans, his basketball IQ is considerably higher than Tyreke’s was upon leaving college, which gives me confiedence in the fact that he can learn how to see the court and more effectively get his teammates involved. Even if Rivers never develops an elite passing ability, his quickness and ability to get into the paint will create more accessible passing lanes, which he can be coached to appropriately utilize. If his game evolves to that level, then he and Gordon could potentially form a scary back court combo, as both guards have exceptional ball-handling skills. Doing so definitely won’t be easy for Austin, nor is it something that will happen overnight, but given the fact that the kid is only 19, he certainly has time to get there.

50 comments
william
william

i dont agree with you at all rivers may have a weird shooting stroke but by no means is he a bad shooter might not be the best shooter but his jump shot is far from bad, and your also wrong saying teams will sag off of him they would be dumb too he would light them up sagging off and he will be able to score, also aside from the ball handling he reminds me nothing of tyreke evans, hes a better shooter and his IQ higher, and hornets fans are complaining about the pick but he was the best player available and could end up being the best sg in the draft

ImSorryMonty
ImSorryMonty

You do realize that Rivers wasn't a fit for Duke's system at all and Coach K literally let him just go out and be the guy most nights right? Saying that the kid can't/won't pass is complete nonsense. Have any of you actually watched highlights of him play? His shot is downright gorgeous. He creates space by fading away from the basket (a la Kobe) and has a beautiful follow through. Let Monty teach him, and when he does, this kid is going to prove all of you so damn wrong it's not going to be even funny. Every expert and their mom loved our draft but the people who barely even know who this guy is are burning him at the stake. Rivers/Gordon is going to be lethal, not a black hole where basketballs go to perish. Did any of you actually see the ball movement Gordon was capable of at the end of last season? He is already an infinitely better PG than Russell Westbrook is RIGHT NOW. The man's basketball IQ is off the charts.

Lucas Ottoni
Lucas Ottoni

I totally agree with you. Austin Rivers was certainly not the best option for the Hornets. We should have grabbed a big man. Now we have the obligation to seek a center in free agency (mainly because Kaman shouldn't remain in New Orleans) and we'll spend a lot of money with an middling player (Asik, Hawes, McGee?) when we could have selected a talented guy (Leonard or Zeller) in the draft by paying much less money and looking to the future. The Hornets selected badly and will lose some flexibility on the payroll because of this whimsy called Austin Rivers (an Eric Gordon's backup). In my opinion, wasn't a proper selection.

DownUnder
DownUnder

I think the expectations are a little too high for the this draft pick, Im glad the Hornets went with talant over need. Look, can anyone truly deny that Austin Rivers has star potential? After pick 10 you can only say that about Meyers Leonard, Jeremy Lamb and maybe Perry Jones, Jarred Sullinger. Other guys i would be more confident in their NBA success than Austin's but I cant see any of them ever being top 5's at their respective positions. If Austin didn't have the risk then he wouldn't have been available at 10. You have to decide whether you want to risk the home run/strikeout or play is safe for minimal reward. A rebuilding team shouldn't be interested in the later because what good is a role player to a team that lacks 'developed stars' for them to play off of. Thats what the 10th pick has generally been recently, J.Fredette, P.George, B.Jennings, and B.Lopez were all risk guys with the 10th pick in recent years and that's produced mixed results but I like how 3 of them have worked out so far for the teams that drafted them. Take Austin now if you think he can be the greatest of the players available, and when a few years pass you see what he truly is and thats when you make decisions on the fit with the team. He could completement Eric Gordon perfectly, or Eric Gordon may be long gone by then or useless because of injury who knows? Maybe Austin becomes good but doesnt fit but at least you have a great trade asset. Finally if he does fail then you acknowledge that the decision didnt pay off but at least we tried to get the "impact player". As far as this topic if concerned, Rivers shouldn't ridiculed so much already. If your going to accept that 1st overall pick Anthony Davis will be pushed around for a few years and his post game might not develop for as long, then why cant we accept that 10th overall pick Austin Rivers is going to take time to become an effective player in the NBA?

nikkoewan
nikkoewan

Its hard to accept Rivers. There was a big part of me that didn't want him. He has all the habits of inefficient scorers - bad shot selections and tunnel vision. Add to that is the fact that he can't make his FT% (which he can do pretty well). I gave him the benefit of the doubt on assists because just by looking at all of his teammates FG%, nobody finished well so there is some credence to his passes not being finished. That said, once he was drafted, I couldn't help but just support the guy. He is still 19 and its incredibly irresponsible to pigeonhole him into something this early in his career. You look at his skill set and there is one thing that's really rare that stands out - his ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. I'll cling on to that because broken jumpers can be fixed, FT shooting can be fixed, but someone's ability to get the rim - that's hard to fix. That's just offensively. Defensively, never really watched him a ton to say anything definite. I will say that I am scared he might turn into Thornton - placed in the dog house because of his defensive lapses. But all that is bull because whatever happens, he knows that I (and every Hornets fan) is rooting for him to succeed (whether you like him or not) because he is one of the keys to bringing a championship to New Orleans in 3 to 4 years. This might be the last time we get into the top 10 of the lottery and if we will finish in ranges of 11-14, odds are we would be lucky to have drafted a role player let alone a "star" to replace Rivers in the event he doesn't succeed. I'll cheer for him as much as I cheered and supported any Hornets player before - yes even the infruriating ones like Lee Nailon (LOL), Willie Green, Hilton, Cedric, even Arvydas Macijauskas. So, to Rivers!!! *cheers*

Ian H
Ian H

I know I'm a Rivers enthusiast but in 2 years I see a 20 and 5 player sharing the back court with a 25 and 4 player in Gordon. That's perfectly fine with me especially if your back up PG is pass first guy on your second unit like a Vasquez or similar style player. To have 2 elite ball handlers who can alternate the pick and roll from various spots on the court is huge in today's NBA. How many "hockey" assists will they get when they penetrate get into the lane draw the big with a rim run and Davis fees the easy put back dunk because no one puts a body on him. The fact that Rivers is an elite ball handler not a good one will always give him a chance to be an effective player at the NBA level.

Mr. West
Mr. West

I'm thinking very rich man's Delonte West, minus the crazy.

Tyler
Tyler

What does this mean for J. Jack and G. Vasquez?

bekc
bekc

And another thing people don't understand about Rivers, he is a tireless worker. He's a "first one in the gym, last one to leave" type of guy. I'll admit that I'm a little biased considering I am a big Duke fan. But I will say, this time last year I had many of the same concerns about Austin that many Hornets fans have right now. And those concerns were elevated when I watched him play with Duke over in China and Dubai last August. But he improved significantly from that time to when the season started and seemed to keep improving with each week. Duke was very poorly constructed this year, Austin did not have the complementary talent or leadership that Kyrie Irving had during his brief time at Duke.

bekc
bekc

Basically, you'd have to be a very poor coach to instruct your players to sag off of Austin Rivers. I don't think Roy Williams would tell any of his players to sag off Austin after what he did to the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome. There are a lot of misperceptions surrounding Austin Rivers.

Kevin
Kevin

I don't think they need or intend to find a Chris Paul type of PG (unless they actually go get CP3 this summer...). I really like the idea of having two combo guards who can both initiate the plays, drive and dish. Then you can take advantage of matchups and situations. It's not necessary to have the same guy always bring the ball up and initiate the offense. It's a gamble, because by having two guys that can be PG's, maybe you have none. But if they can strike the balance and develop a nuanced understanding of when to do what, they can be devastating. And remember Rivers is only 19, like the rest of these one and done's, so he may be a completely different guy in a few years...

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Today, Dell said that he thought Rivers' numbers and performance in college were good. Monty said he would compare Gordon and Rivers to Parker and Ginobili.

504ever
504ever

Great article. Mason. I think it is important we all see River for what he is rght now. Then it is easier to unite around him with reasonable expectations for the 2012-13 season. Unreasonable expectations will just cause dissatisfaction with any player.

Gabe
Gabe

We could have easily traded with Portland are pick and next-years lottery protected pick for the 6th. They could have gotten Lillard at 10, they took him at because they thought we would take him at 10. Barnes is a much better prospect then Rivers. Also with all this cap space we could sign one of these free agent point guards next offseason Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, or even Chris Paul- is Austin Rivers ever going to be better than ANY of those guys?

jjmartin
jjmartin

Best ball handler in the draft.

Chuck
Chuck

You said you think the Hornets had better options at 10, but I dunno, how many guys were there really still there who were worth picking at 10? Sullinger and Perry Jones if you don't buy the red flags. Lamb, who can't play pg now or ever (though he could play SF). Terrence Jones, if you think he'll develop next to Davis (I don't think they'll be particularly complimentary in the pros unless Jones develops a good post game, which I don't really think will happen). Maybe Marshall, Fournier, or Quincy Miller, although they would all be reaches. I think in terms of talent Rivers was definitely the best available, and that's who I want my team to draft.

David
David

Austin Rivers' jump shot is not "broken." MKG's jumper is broken. Tyreke Evans' and Tony Wroten's jumpers are broken. I think Rivers has a smooth stroke, just needs to be more consistent.

Manny
Manny

I think folks are over-selling Rivers' shooting woes. He isn't exactly Ray Allen and he's awfully streaky, but he's not a bad perimeter shooter and he's got easy range on his jumper. I'm hopeful that he can develop that part of his game. He's certainly a much much better shooter coming out of Duke than Tyreke was coming out of Memphis.

Ron
Ron

Dell and Monty's "we want people who can make their own shots" mantra completely remind me of JJ losing so many games for us last year by being a selfish PG. If what Rivers and EG10 hear from Coach is "make your own shot", then how will they develop as passers?

cloud520
cloud520

I see Rivers being able to make the transition to a combo guard (think Russell Westbrook). I don't think he would ever make a great pure point guard.

nola hustle
nola hustle

Have to admit we need a light it up 6th man Just think our other needs are greater

nola hustle
nola hustle

Ok except I can't accept that you accept Austin. Bad fit but I have faith in delllmonte so I will hope I'm wrong

LSUhornet17
LSUhornet17

This is where I remind you that Dell traded for Willie Green to be the backup PG. (though admittedly Green was not a 19 year old and not learning much, still)

Eric
Eric

I think rivers will buy into what Monty is selling unlike Marcus, I also think dell will make a lil less than max for McGee. But if we did end up with McGee we need offense Gordon can't score 70 every night to summarize a mgee Davis back court will own and I have faith in Monty and austins relationship if any one can reach rivers it's Monty

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

I wanted Marshall, then Leonard, then Rivers. Very tight contest for me, and slightly less so in thr actual draft. I agree with what you said and more.

loudlikepat
loudlikepat

Couldn't have said it better man. I beat coach Monty is having trouble sleeping right now.Just imagine when these talents gel, and they start producing! I say in the first six games we will get a few streaks of genius. It's hard not to be excited.

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

The misconception is putting so much weight into one lucky shot against UNC. Rivers is quick off of the dribble but is a below average jump shooter. In the NBA, teams will play a step off of him and force him to beat them with his jumper. If Rivers is shooting jump shots, he isn't a serious threat.

Andrew
Andrew

Very impressive jump shots if you ask me

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

Some guy on this site who has been beating the Rivers drum has said Parker/Ginobli or Cassell, Sprewell- does anybody remember who that guy was?

Chuck
Chuck

I see it. They're both crafty guards who have a great handle and can make shots from all over and get to the rim. They are both natural scorers but can create for others because of their ability to break down the defense. The difference is that Gordon and Rivers are probably both better pure shooters than Parker/Ginobili, while Parker/Ginobili are probably better athletically than Gordon/Rivers (Manu is a phenomenal athlete, which is how he does half the things he does). If they can learn to play each off of each other they could be awesome, with Davis playing the Duncan role behind them.

mazonmafia
mazonmafia

Eh?? Does he mean in production? Or style? Not sure I see it...

mazonmafia
mazonmafia

I still think we could go after one of these guys next yr. Give rivers a yr to see if he really can transition to pg and if not, move him to a 6th man role. I think he is better suited for this as he is an electric scorer and could be unstoppable against 2nd units... Time will tell. But I like a lot of the pg options you posted.

Jason
Jason

That was my reasoning for hoping we'd trade up for Barnes or MKG if he miraculously fell far enough; there's a plethora of PG talent hitting the FA pool. I do like Rivers's game overall though. If he learns to take care of the ball more and gets more consistent with his shooting mechanics, he could be in that same class, given some time.

jmbell
jmbell

The thing is that EVERY rookie stroke needs work. Even Beal's. His is not "broken". It doesn't even need as much work as Evans' did. Evans had all those problems mentioned plus the whipping motion that most coaches red flag as well as arch and squaring up. Is River's shot perfect? Far from it. But it's not as bad as every one makes it seem.

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

I think it's pretty clear that it is; however, by no means does that imply that his shot is irreparable. http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/30610/2012-nba-draft-evaluating-the-point-guards "There are a number of things wrong with Rivers's shooting stroke. You'll notice a lot of inconsistency, which is not ideal. The best shooters —guys like Ray Allen — repeat the same motion every time they shoot. Rivers has far too many variables: The release point is inconsistent; how high he jumps is inconsistent; even the way he lands is inconsistent. His shot will be difficult to fix since it's unclear where the real problem is introduced. Once he gets a consistent form, he could be an extremely dangerous player."

Buzz
Buzz

rivers is a far better shooter than evans, i agree. i wouldnt be calling rivers jumpshot broken at all, just streaky.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

Here's my question, though, how many of those same games do we win with Anthony Davis at PF instead of Lance Thomas?

Jason
Jason

They're professionals. They can handle learning more than one skill at a time. Over time, Rivers will better his ability to create his own shot in the NBA while learning to utilize several passing lanes in multiple situations. Patience is key.

jmbell
jmbell

I like that idea too. Maybe he doesn't have to play pg for 40 minutes. Maybe Vazquez plays 20, Gordon/other pg plays 8, and Rivers plays 20. Maybe he's back up sg/pg getting 30-35 minutes a night.

jmbell
jmbell

I like that idea too. Maybe he doesn't have to play pg for 40 minutes. Maybe Vazquez plays 20, Gordon/other pg plays 8, and Rivers plays 20.

NOH Domination
NOH Domination

How about the other 5 "lucky" threes he drained in that game?

mazonmafia
mazonmafia

Bucks w/ ray allen! Good stuff but latrell's game doesnt relate to either gordon or rivers I think... Hes much more physical.

jmbell
jmbell

I think Eric Gordon compares most favorably to Dwanye Wade but as efficient as he is in the pick and roll I can see a Manu that shoots alot more. I also see James Harden/Russell Westbrook. Again, shooting more than Harden. And Rivers being a less athletic Westbrook.

SP
SP

Rivers is a streaky shooter, just like most good shooters in this league. His release is a little awkward, but the term 'broken' gets used far too loosely these days and I don't think it should be mentioned in the same breath as Austin Rivers. I don't mind the comparison of Rivers and Evans, but Austin doesn't have Tyreke's power when he goes to the basket and Tyreke doesn't even come close to rivers in perimeter shooting. People often forget these guys are 19 years old. It makes no sense to compare them to the skill sets of a seasoned veteran and decide who they will become, dig a little deeper and look at the raw talent and physical packages they are bringing with them to New Orleans, both Rivers and Davis have superstar qualities, how Monty uses and develops them will be the key to their success.

jmbell
jmbell

I agree. Rivers problem isn't his form. It's just consistency. Evans has bad form and too much extra stuff going on that takes longer and he wips it like Michael Redd which takes alot more worl to make it consistent. I don't really agree with the Tyreke Evans comparison.

jmbell
jmbell

I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think we win a lot more, but I think we win a lot more with AD wether we have Jack or Rivers or Vasquez.