The Return (?) of Eric Gordon: A Rivers-Centric Lineup Part 2

Published: December 20, 2012
Rivers Intro

The general assumption leading up to the start of the regular season was that Austin Rivers would come off of the bench and back up both guard spots throughout the year. But Eric Gordon’s recurring knee troubles forced the rookie into a starting role, and while his on-the-job training didn’t start out particularly well (his first 16 games put him at an historically awful pace), he’s managed averages over his last 7 games of 12.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, and 49% shooting, including a breakout performance against Minnesota, going off for 27 points on 14 shots, including 5-6 from distance. The possible return of Gordon coupled with Rivers’ recent improvement marks an upswing in back court production for the Hornets, but most probably a statistical downswing for the recently surging rookie; what would Rivers’ new role be off the bench, assuming the return of a healthy Eric Gordon? If it were up Rivers, he would have to prefer inhabiting more of Brian Roberts’ role than Roger Mason’s; Eric Gordon is a lethal pick and roll playmaker, who, when able to play, is the team’s best penetrator and shot creator. Coming in for Vasquez to play alongside Gordon would be a developmental boon for Rivers, who would have someone able to create more open looks for him. This would allow him to work on his play off the ball, as well as manufacture shooting space, which would lead to less shot hesitation on the perimeter. And whenever Rivers creates space, he would have a superior shooter to kick out to, as opposed to Vasquez.

More than likely, however, Monty will continue to deploy Brian Roberts as the primary backup point guard, with Rivers and Mason sharing duties spelling Gordon. But how would a bench lineup be composed if it were tailor made to Rivers’ strengths?

PG – Austin Rivers

In any realistic conception of a starting lineup, whether it include playing the “2” next to Vasquez or the “1” alongside Gordon, Rivers would be sharing ball-handling duties, due to: A., the fact that those are both ball-dominant starters, and B., that Rivers is not ready to initiate and run an offense of starters who would require him to consistently create shots for them. But in a bench role, Rivers won’t have to worry about carrying the burden of organizing an entire offense; he would be free to flash his iso skills as the bench’s primary ball-handler and scorer.

SG – Roger Mason/Brian Roberts

Whoever plays in the backcourt alongside Rivers should be matchup dependent; does the opposing team’s bench have one or more capable perimeter defenders who might hassle the rookie? Would he need the ball-handling of Roberts to defer to, or the off-ball game of Roger Mason coming off screens and spotting up for looks? Mason would probably be the slightly superior defensive complement, due to his size.

SF – Darius Miller

Aminu can’t be considered only because Rivers is primarily a half-court player; although the rookie from Kentucky hasn’t shown much, he at least has a competent shooting stroke and lacks a propensity for dribbling the ball off of his own feet.

PF – Al Farouq Aminu

Enter Aminu, whose only real complement to Rivers is his terrific rebounding, which would be of especial benefit for a player who has yet to demonstrate the requisite strength for consistently finishing at the rim.

C – Jason Smith

A torn labrum has sidelined Smith for at least the next two weeks, but he could very well be available by the time Gordon returns, and Rivers is pushed back to the bench. The potential for a Smith/Rivers pick and pop connection was detailed in last week’s Rivers-Centric Lineup, and the duo would just potentially be just as effective coming off the pine together as they would be starting together.

Certainly, however, Rivers will still get run with Vasquez, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and even Eric Gordon. But to maximize both his effectiveness and development, it might be wiser to bring him in as the primary backup “1”, as opposed to the backup “2”.


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