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

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.

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