Making the Transition: Dare to Compare to Tony Parker

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Published: November 15, 2012

Hornets fans want a star from their “other” rookie first round selection, but Austin Rivers is struggling . . . does this mean he will not be a star?

Star formation is a process which generally takes millions of years. Interstellar clouds of dust and gas, or nebulae, slowly accrete into a sphere, due to gravity. Then, the temperature within the center of the sphere begins to rise as more and more material is compressed into a tighter and tighter space. Finally, when the temperature becomes hot enough, nuclear fusion is ignited; a star is born. The majority of the stars in the universe are of the slow-developing variety; their relatively low mass makes it a longer and more arduous star-birthing process. Some stars, however, form within the span of mere tens of thousands of years; these we call high mass stars, and their development is accelerated by the extra energy they receive from their relatively large mass.

Narrowing the astronomical perspective, we see the same general pattern in the NBA. Our high mass stars, the transcendent talents who were elite or near it the moment they stepped on the floor, are outnumbered by solid role players and even other stars in their own right. For every Tim Duncan, Lebron James, and dare I say Anthony Davis (who is perhaps more dust and gas than star at this stage in his career), there are dozens and dozens of good to great players who were not always good to great. Austin Rivers is not a high mass star; he has not, nor will he at any time in the very near future, dominate the league. Nor was he drafted with the expectation that he would. Without the handicap of obvious and supreme talent and skill to project ahead, or of a sufficiently large sample size to look behind and analyze, we are left to poke through our incomplete charts and notes, and to scan the skies for clues; what will Austin Rivers become? Like any good astronomer, we must find some other star, somewhere in the galaxy, which had, at its birth, similar traits and attributes to the currently starless void we are pondering over; one such former void is Tony Parker.

Though recruited by NCAA schools, the second generation basketball player did a professional stint in Europe for two years before entering the NBA draft at the age of 19. In his NBA rookie year, Parker was quite literally half the player he was during his peak; with a WS/48 of .080, an AST% of 23.9, and a PER of 11.7, he was anything but the point guard that would go on in his prime to accrue .168, 40.7, and 23.4 in those respective categories. He was described as more of a “score-first” point guard in a league where that wasn’t quite cool yet; the report on him was that while he was quick and nifty with the ball, he was frail, and didn’t possess a consistent shooting stroke. It bore out: with a TS% and an eFG% both under 50% (.497 and .467, respectively), Parker was, frankly, awful at putting the ball in the basket. His AST% of 23.9, mentioned earlier, was abysmal. And having run out of negative adjectives, I’ll let the 17.5% turnover rate speak for itself (it’s not good!).

So why was he drafted? Shouldn’t his deficiencies have been obvious enough to warrant non-selection? Why, if he was so bad, was he given so much time to be prove it? Because of the dreaded, the haunting, the often mystical storehouse of “potential” talent evaluators saw in him; Parker, like Rivers, had exceptional breakdown ability with the ball in his hands and a nose for the basket. These showed up in bursts and flashes, the lightning strikes which were supposed to signal the coming of a slow, consistent storm of production. But no storm of any real consequence was ever signaled by a single bolt of lightning; and it is hard to expect a player to build the sort of consistency desired of productive players if he isn’t given consistent opportunities in equal measure. Rivers hasn’t had many, with regards to traditional point guard duties: bringing the ball up the floor, initiating the offense and getting players into their sets, playing pick and roll at the top of the key, utilizing the drive and dish, etc. Coupled with Greivis Vasquez’s 23.0 USG rate (higher than Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo), and you have a player who, sporting a paltry USG% of 18.3 of his own (similar to Parker’s 17.7% mark in his rookie year), isn’t getting many opportunities as a ball distributor or play-maker, and is finding himself standing in the corner as an oft-forgotten “2” instead of at the “1” where he might be better served earning his rookie licks.

What changed for Parker? Simply put, he improved his shooting. From year one to two, he upped his TS% by 45 points, to a very respectable .542 mark, as well as improving his eFG% by 36 points, to .503. Defenses, less prone to sag, played tighter on the now competent shooting Parker, and this allowed him to blow by his man more effectively; his new and improved lifestyle in the lane also bore out in an improved AST% (still meager at 27.9%, but a noticeable jump nonetheless) and increased free throw rate (1.4 more free throw attempts per game; his ten point jump in FT%, from .65% to .75%, is a testament to his refined shooting stroke). These advancements in his game found expression in his PER (16.5) and WS/48 (.134), both solid to good numbers, particularly for a second year player. While Rivers’ poor shooting numbers are bound to normalize, it is clear that he must concentrate on both refining his outside jumper to keep defenses close, and allow himself to be confident enough to take such shots without hesitation, which has been a problem for him early in his NBA life. He seems eager to please and demonstrate his willingness to play within the flow of the team concept, sometimes to a fault.

It is of course a fallacious argument to claim that if currently successful Player X struggled early in his career, then Player Y’s early career struggles are indicative of future success; there have been plenty of bad players who were consistently bad during their tenure. What we are left with is a sort of “informed divination”, which combines drawing similarities between the situations and talents of two players, the observable, and then making projections based partly in statistical evidence and partly on optimism or pessimism; it is too early to have a reasonable stance of either of the latter two choices, and if Tony Parker is any indication, it might be that this year for Rivers is one where failure is not only the expectation, but the necessary and slow development required for a star.

37 comments
Bombay
Bombay

Where is the Rivers that I was just watching on his youtube mixtapes..The Rivers shooting all the threes, breaking ankle after ankle, and attacking the rim fearlessly..He is clearly playing injured and i think as he gets healthy we will see the real Austin...

maximumballer
maximumballer

I dont think you can consider Rivers a bust yet, because he has shown some flashes. The two things that really made me sad watching him at the games is he isnt a good shooter. Watching him drain threes at duke with hands in his face to seeing him miss wide open jumpers is a shocker. The second is that he finishes so weakly at the rim. He is suppose to have this incredible hop that would let him dunk at the rim, all I have seen is layup after layup attempt. Your 19 your suppose to try and ram it down when your free at the rim. He will be a decent player if he learns to shoot because he does get open,he will never be a star because he doesnt finish around the rim with authority.

Ethan
Ethan

Funny McNamara because a homer is exactly what you are.

Lucas Ottoni
Lucas Ottoni

D-League would be a good suggestion for Austin Rivers.

ADubs
ADubs

Lucas, I like your comments and passion around the Hornets, but I've gotta disagree with you (and others on this post) on this one. We don't have enough guards on our current roster to send Rivers to the D-League, and this season is kinda a D-League type of season for the Hornets anyway. We're (probably) not going to make the playoffs, and won't make a deep run if we do, so let the players we drafted develop in the deep end of the pool (the NBA) now. I don't like the "shoulda stayed at Duke" lines much either, because Duke wasn't a good fit for Rivers nor for pro-style development (despite Coach K's Team USA ties). If he was to stay in college, he should have gone to a place like Kentucky in the first place.

F******
F******

Have to admit that I am a bit disappointed in Rivers' performance so far. The difference to Parker is also the draft position. 28 I think in comparison to ten!!! That's a huge difference for the expectation level and to me, drafting a player at 10 means that I expect some flashes in a game that tells me the player has a great future. So far I don't think Rivers delivered such moments and that's why people already use the word bust. On the other hand his Basketball IQ is indeed pretty high and I really like his personality. Because of that it is way too early to give up on him. Btw I think right now his PG play is much better than his scoring at two-guard so I hope he will see more minutes at the point!

David
David

Who drafted 11-60 in last years draft is setting the world on fire? Once you get past the top 3-5 in an nba draft its all a crapshoot. Be patient

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

I didn't want to seem like a homer or an apologist, but this is exactly how I feel. Every other young guy drafted this year after 7 is getting to come along slowly, playing 0-12 mins a night off the bench with no pressure and they get to play within their current skill set. Rivers is forced to play 30+ minutes every night, has to do things he simply is not good at yet and is getting better game to game. Terrance Jones has played, what, 3 minutes this year? Where's Kendall Marshall, Terrance Ross, Jeremy Lamb or any of the other guys in consideration for the pick? Would people think higher of Rivers if he was just riding the bench like all these other rooks?

xman20002000
xman20002000

Christ give the kid a break... He was rated one of the top back court prospects coming out of high school... One year of college should not qualify as experience... The kid is trying to find his game but he is starting and whom else do we have.. EG so when he and EG or coming off the bench as the 6th man... but he will have to pop strings.. SCORE... So at SG we have Rivers, Henry and Mason... theoretically... In reality we got 12 points out of the position last game and looks like the new SG guard is not coming... And why should he considering our plans for EG and Rivers... Regarding Davis, more NBA ready and his supporting cast of front court players is far superior... Were EG here a slightly different story and Rivers game might improve... less pressure...

popmusic
popmusic

Rivers was NEVER intended to be our starting shooting guard this year. Give the kid a break. If he is in over his head now, it's not his fault, the fault is in L.A.

andregurov
andregurov

Shooting is a skill that can be developed; quickness is a talent that is almost innately physical. Rivers will be fine in the NBA, and I am confident that the young man - who says all the right things, appears to want to execute team concepts on the court, and gives top-shelf effort every night - can maximize enough of his talent to succeed. The NBA, like most other major sports, is less about one supremely unique talent dominating a game and more about one supremely committed talent dominating a game. The talent is there, and I think his drive to achieve is evident. These are exciting times for Hornets' fans; the meeting of dedication and talent on this team quickens my pulse. I've watched enough NBA over the years to identify when TEAMS quit and fail to compete. I've not seen a Hornets team this committed and capable in several years. I'll quit now because I'm obviously fawning. : )

Lucas Ottoni
Lucas Ottoni

I'm not liking Austin Rivers. He is too raw to play in the NBA. He should have stayed at Duke.

mojart
mojart

i still believe in austin rivers......the guy can ball

Emac
Emac

Out a year too early. But as someone who didn't like the pick, Rivers is turning me around. Like his grit, his handle and his obvious passion to get better. Bodes well. Not worried about his shooting. That will come. His most obvious NBA skill is as a penetrator. As he matures and the game slows down, he'll be a good player. Look at this as a red-shirt season. Should be coming off the bench for Gordon this year.

J
J

This team drafted Austin because of who his daddy is and his ties to Monty Williams.This guy is shoulda stayed at Duke he's not NBA ready.Austin will be just like his father an journeyman NBA player.Wasted pick

Ron
Ron

shoulda stayed at Duke or gone to the D-league Well, I agree with that, but just on the principle that all young players who don't want to do 3-4 years of college should do their time in the D-league before rising to the majors.

Asher504
Asher504

Anthony Davis...D-League? Get real. Everyone has there own path. Rivers is going to be a stud. Next year will be his breakout when he gets stronger, and a better feel for the flow/tempo of a nba game.

Phelpsalot
Phelpsalot

I really can not even fathom to understand how "basketball fans" can call anyone a "bust after 6 games. Everyone is all about instant gratification. At the time of the draft, it was clear that he was a 19 year old project. He has good size, great quickness, and yes pedigree. It seems like the kid works incredibly hard and cares about what he is doing here. I can't wait till his jumper starts falling regularly. It wouldn't surprise me to see our team take a huge step forward quickly when that happens. Loving these Hornets. Hope they compete a little better on Friday though.

J
J

Give it a year or two and hopefully he'll be worth it.Crybabies

Bombay
Bombay

I think Rivers will shine as he gets comfortable...Its seems like he is trying to get rid of the ball hogging knock on him coming in from college...I find myself watching the game and everytime Rivers touches the ball, im sayin, "Attack the basket". He just wont attack the basket regularly..If he learned anything from James Harden last night, he should attack the basket, look for the pass and get to the foul line...With his handles he should be able to get anywhere on the court..

Tony
Tony

Neat article. I too believe Rivers will become a better player in time. I would compare him to Smity, Aminu or Vasquez before parker though. Based on the fact both of these players played very timid last year until the end of the season where the team went on a run and players played with better confidence and more comfortably as they settled into their roles. Rivers will be fine. Besides Lillard is more of a Brandon Jennings type, I'd rather a Rivers who could become a Tony Parker type.

Jeff the Barbarian
Jeff the Barbarian

Question: If Darren Collison or Marcus Thornton had future HOF coaches for fathers would we have overscrutinized them to this level as well? Would we have gotten bogged down in the hype of the famous name and expected "stardom" out of them? Yeah, I guess we probably would have. All the same, I would personally rather focus on the pieces of this team that are truly exciting. Rivers is not (and never will be) the star of this team. Let's let him develop (if he does) and leave if he doesn't. I'm afraid we may be expecting too much from a largely unproven player.

mateor
mateor

Hard to do. Top ten draft pick (even if barely) and one of the few things we have to show for Chris Paul. I think the fact that he is just so tiny looking makes him stand out more than his lineage. It is certainly the first thing I think of. With the fan popularity of the "Thunder Model" (i.e. get insanely lucky with reaches like Russel Westbrook, Durant falls instead of Oden) I think any completely busted franchise that gets two top ten picks in the same year--- those guys are getting the spotlight. Oh yeah. His dad. He may get scrutinized more deeply than Hilton Armstrong or Julian Wright, but those guys at least could physically be compared to other NBA players. Austin just looks out of place at this point.

mateor
mateor

Let me just say he won me over some with his obvious sincerity in wanting to be in New Orleans. I don't know if this city has seen that in a Hornet draft pick before.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

You are free to focus on what you choose. Specifically, what is that?

Rich Richardson
Rich Richardson

Why are you always on the defense of your writers? Do you have a problem with fans speaking there mind? Just let the people talk,debate,and argue. It ruins the vibe of the message board when someone drops in and polices what someone has to say. kthnxbai

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Always? No. And I engage readers on a number of topics. I'm free to express my opinion too. To be clear, I did not like the comment. I alsi did not find it sexist or racist. I found it tasteless, off-topic, and (clearly) distracting. I have been guilty of these last three, for sure.

Jeff the Barbarian
Jeff the Barbarian

Did the sharing of my opinion on A. Rivers come across as criticism of this website as a whole? If so, I aplogize. That was not my intention. Please make no mistake, my slightly differing opinion is not a result of a need to "catch up." I read and enjoy the other articles on this website and post comments on them as well. I didn't "miss" anything.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Just pointing out that the coverage you specifically asked for is there. I asked for input. Young from gave it. That's more than many do.

Jeff the Barbarian
Jeff the Barbarian

Specifically, our #1 draft pick and whip-smart coach and General Manager who seem genuinely committed to building a world class basketball team in New Orleans.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Davis is covered in gameday pieces and extensively on the podcast, plays are dissected Fridays and rotations are discussed on the podcast, and Demps' moves are covered as they hsppen including comments from other writers and they are reviewed as a whole (see recent highlights). Davis also had a series of pieces dedicated to comparing him to the greats' rookie years as a means of setting expectations leading up to the season. Feel free to check those out since you missed them The good thing about having 10ish writers is the site.can give in depth coverage about many topics. So, once you catch up, let us know what we missed, and we'll look into it.

Biasvasospasm
Biasvasospasm

Rivers is getting better and he's a net plus for this team when other options on the roster are considered in terms on running an offense. He wouldn't have been my choice, but here have been encouraging signs to someone who frankly disliked his game coming out. He hasn't been a ball hog like he was at Duke. He's been a willing passer. He hasn't turned it over at a ridiculous clip. His defensive effort has been there, although the results haven't been pretty---again, not something I can say for him at Duke. He's the most capable ball handler on the roster. He attempts to track down rebounds and get in passing lanes. He just hasn't been able to make shots, including great looks at the basket. His shooting has been tear-your-eyes-out bad so far. If that gets to NBA average, he's a useful player, but that's a long way away. Unlike Michael, I doubt he ever improves to he level that Lilliard is at right now, but if his shooting normalizes to his college levels he'll at least be a decent rotation player. In the mean time, there will be some growing pains because he's going to get minutes, and I really don't see Mason or Henry as more deserving on those minutes.

J
J

Austin Rivers and Royce white have alot in common they're both BUST!!!!!! nuff said. ((Support your point or this will deleted.))

David
David

(cue exacerbated sigh). Dude is barely 19. He's played 5 games. Slow down on the "bust" talk, chief.

Ron
Ron

((Support your point or this will deleted.)) If you do that, future generations won't realize what a voted-down troll that J is...

Taquito
Taquito

because you only post asinine things like this

J
J

((You have a right to your opinion. You do not have the right to express it continually without justification when this site is about discussion and you've been asked numerous times for such justification.))