Beneath the Screen: A Rivers Runs Through It

Published: December 7, 2012

After the Lakers game the other night there was a lot of talk on the site and twitter about Austin Rivers. Some people were labeling him a bust less than 20 games into his pro career. Others see potential but understand this is a long process. The 10th overall pick is going to be a hot topic this season, and, as the point guard of the future, I decided to look at how Rivers does on the pick and roll. To the Madistrator!

Here Lopez sets the screen for Rivers. The screen is excellent and forces a bigman to switch onto Rivers. This is a matchup he should normally win as he has a huge speed advantage. Just look at the space on the left side of the court. But instead of going around the defender he cuts back to the right…

and runs into Lopez and becomes pinned there between his screen man and the defender.

Rivers loses control of the ball and Kobe comes up for a quick steal and dunk in transition.

Rivers has no need to cut back to the right on that play and the bad decision is compounded by giving up easy transition points. Rivers needs to realize he has a favorable matchup and drive to the rim. As he gains experience he’ll be able to recognize these situations better.

Let’s take a look a better example

As Rivers comes around the screen, a defender slides over to cover him.

This times Rivers sees the defender takes a poor angle and this time Rivers correctly cuts back inside. Notice there is more space between him and the screener, so he doesn’t pull a Mark Sanchez and run into his teammate.

After he cuts correctly, Rivers has enough space and positioning to score.

Even though he struggles at times, I’m not ready to label Rivers a bust or even say he’s not going to be a good NBA player. Right now, he makes both good and bad plays. What he simply needs is time and minutes.

Even though it’s early in his career, you can start to see the type of NBA player he will be. Throughout the season so far, Rivers has continually slashed to the basket. This skill is going to aid him on the pick and roll but I noticed that Rivers doesn’t tend to pass in that situation. In fact, most of his assists on the season have gone to other guards instead of the team’s bigmen. But his slashing talent, if you combine him with more shooters than just Anderson, is going to lead to a lot of kickout passes for open looks.

We’re less than 20 games into River’s career. He’s still going to be a work in progress. But as long and he keeps improving this season, I’ll be happy. Hopefully he learns to pass in the pick and roll by season’s end.

What’s your take? Let everyone know in the comments below.

Beneath the Screen is a reoccurring series throughout the season run on Fridays. See past editions here.



  1. 504ever

    December 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Here are the probems with Rivers:

    Rivers is a slasher who can’t finish well enough at the rim and doesn’t look to pass off of the drive. That was evident in college and now the NBA. How do you think that will change in the NBA, with mobile 7 footers, and near 7 footers, everywhere?

    Rivers’ decision making is poor. Again, evident in college and the NBA. Your Madistrator example shows a failure to comprehend something so basic about picks that it is shocking. It also explains how Monty can complain about Rivers not understanding basketball “concepts”. And how can a coach’s son not get this, and other, basic basketball concepts?

    Rivers didn’t grow out of these problems in college. There is a significant likelihood he will never grow out of these problems in the NBA. That is what scares me.

    Jake, you say ‘as long as Rivers keeps improving this season, you will be happy.’ Where is improvement you have seen so far? I don’t see any, and that scares me.

    Rivers looks like the classic half glass. It is also half empty, too.

    • Michael McNamara

      December 7, 2012 at 10:07 am

      While it doesn’t necessarily mean he will improve in pros, you are incorrect to say he didn’t improve in college. In his first two months he scored .559 points per shot at the rim. In the next four months, he scored 1.34 points per shot at the rim to finish at a little over 1.1 pps for the season. He figured it out there, he could easily figure it out here

      A good read here:

  2. matt

    December 7, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Rivers gets to the rim pretty often when he tries to. He needs to be able to finish when he gets there. That is his biggest problem to me right now. His role on this team is as a slasher. He needs to be able to finish. That’s the improvement I want to see out of him this year. Finish at the rim and gain confidence in himself.

  3. 504ever

    December 7, 2012 at 10:27 am


    Thank you for adding to the discussion with a great fact. I appreciate that (and people who write a response rather than just ‘thumbing down’ a post).

    For the record, I never said Rivers didn’t improve in college, but that his weaknesses, as I grouped them, were still a problem. Just look at how his season ended. Duke (#2 seed) lost to Lehigh (#15 seed) in nearby Greensboro, N.C and Rivers was a big reason why.

    And if Rivers hadn’t gotten ‘bailed out’ by fouls on his drives (something that isn’t happening in the NBA), his points per shot at the rim in college would have been much lower. He still has a problem making his shots at the rim.

    • Michael McNamara

      December 7, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Yeah, none of us know for sure, but one thing I am positive about is that this summer and every summer after that, Rivers will be in a gym 10 hours a day working on his game. That is what every player should do, but very few young men approach this game as professionals.

      I just would be much more afraid to bet against Rivers than to bet on him and I think Dell and Monty feel the same way and that is why they took him

      • LLHOPS

        December 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm

        One year of college ball and 17 games in the NBA is way too early to make certain predictions about Rivers. Rivers has a great first step and he can get to the basket. What he struggles with is finishing. This is due to his lack of strength which he can improve in the offseason. Patience is needed with Rivers.

    • Jordan J.

      December 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Of course Rivers was a big reason why Duke lost to Lehigh. He was the best player on the team and when you have that role you have pressure to perform well and lead your team to victory. Is that his role on this team? Absolutely not, and he knows it.

      His mentality in college (branded a ball-hog) is completely different than it is now (he knows he’s not the best player). He’s a smart hard-working kid that is going to figure things out and get better. Look at Tony Parker’s rookie stats when you get the chance. Compare them to A. Rivers. He’ll figure it out.

  4. BRballboy

    December 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

    My hope was for AR to blossom in a yr. or 2. Now it’s 2 to 3, what would have been his college yrs. He was in high school 1 1/2 yrs ago. Athletes are said to peak about 28. He just turned 20.
    Our limited backcourt has him prematurely getting close to starter minutes. Given some time, I expect he will be a filled out athlete with the skills & physique to be an NBA starter.
    We all would have loved for him to shine from the start, but for now he’s a boy among men. His time will come, but for now we’re a man down. Different story if EG getting 35 minutes.
    I can’t believe we haven’t gotten an upgrade in the backcourt. You’ve got to give up something to get something,& we’re so thin at guard. Surely some team with extra guards could use a big like Lopez or ( gulp) Smith.

  5. Ying S

    December 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    A few things about this article, and then the discussion in the comments.

    – Must improve in setting up his man for the screen, and being patient with his initial read (reject/hesitation dribble, crossing his man into the screen etc.)

    – The main thing: You don’t need to actually come off the screen THAT quickly to be effective (Stockton, Rubio et. al) and Rivers is going top gear in that space between him and the roll defender. Where I see him making the leap is learning to slow down after shedding his man on the pick, and using his incredible ability to change gears.

    Right now he’s trying to change gears from gear 5-6, resulting in bad balance at the rim, and trying to extend and finish by enormous NBA athletes. Instead, he must change from gear 2 to gear 5, slowing down the action in the in-between space, giving him more time to involve the roll man, to make the right read, and ultimately give him balance on his finishing.

    – His stats are terrible. But you also have to realize he’s had 3 different roles in the span of weeks in the league. He went from starting SG, trying to work off of Vasquez’s ball-dominant play. Then he went to the bench PG, and he has shown improvement with reasonably high assist numbers/occasional bursts of scoring. Now to make things worse, he’s been playing off the ball, SG with Roberts.

    Roberts gives up the ball to Rivers typically with 4 seconds left in the clock, after Brian has probed for a mid-range shot (ignored the roll man/bigs) for 20 seconds. I honestly have no idea why Rivers has been pushed off the ball-handler role on the bench. His 3pt% has plummeted.

    – All the bloggers/podcast dudes on this site are spot-on with Rivers. It is far too early to just name him a bust, he’s actually more of a 1 than a 2, and he has tremendous upside, and will adjust to the NBA because of his work-ethic.


    • Mike P

      December 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      100% agree.. nice to see balanced analysis

  6. Robert

    December 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I’m just a casual fan, I’ll admit, but I would guess that Rivers has a lot better opportunity to excel from his current situation than most other players at his age and ability, just because of who and where he is. He is very fortunate to be with Monty, and have Doc for a father, this gives him support that others might not. What he needs can largely be taught, I would think, if he applies himself to learning. What he has, which is aggressive instincts and speed, can’t be taught. So it’s really up to him whether he will learn what he needs to. I’m in the camp not to bet against him getting there, it would be a huge disappointment for him not to achieve his potential, mostly a disappointment for himself, and when that is the case the chances are he will try to not disappoint. He’s being given a lot of opportunity right now, with Gordon on the bench, and little time yet to really get to where he might be able to, but the factors are all there for him too, so I suspect given enough time he will. How far he will be able to take it is in question, but I suspect he will prove himself valuable with time.

  7. mojart

    December 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    i still believe in austin rivers….he can figure it out…look kobe in his rookie year is averaging 7ppg only…look at him now…he has 30k points…kobe do it with hardwork….make mistakes and learn from it…im not saying that rivers will be like kobe….but rivers has the drive and passion to succeed….be patient hornets fan….time will come that this guy will make as “WOW”…

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