Hornets nab Duke Freshman Austin Rivers with the Tenth Pick

Published: June 28, 2012

Somebody called this….

The Hornets love for Austin Rivers has been one of the worst kept secrets of the last two weeks, and on Thursday night they officially made him a Hornet by selecting the polarizing Duke star with the tenth pick in the 2012 draft. Rivers, who was the second ranked high school recruit in the class of 2011 (Anthony Davis was #1), had a somewhat disappointing freshman season at Duke by his own standards. He put up 15.5 points on 43.3% shooting, but averaged more turnovers than assists and also failed to lead Duke out of the first round of the NCAA tournament.

That is not to say that Rivers did not have his moments at Duke. In February, he finally started to put it together and show the enormous potential that he has, putting up 18ppg on 45% shooting from the field and 41% from the 3-pt line. He also got to the line 6.5 times a game in that final full month of the season and grabbed 4.5 rebounds- a 50% increase over what he had done in the months prior.  He simply got better as the year went along. And, oh yeah, who could forget possibly the biggest shot of the year in college basketball.

At 6’5″, Austin Rivers is listed as a shooting guard but has the ability to slide into either guard slot because of his elite ball handling skills. He also is fantastic as a ball handler in the pick and roll, as he shot 47% from the field in those situations at Duke last season. For the sake of comparison, Russell Westbrook, shot just 42% in that situation last season. Chris Paul, a master of the pick and roll, shot the same 47% last season with the Clippers.

While Rivers will never be a conventional point guard, NBA teams have shown over the last few years that there is more than one way to skin a cat. While traditional pass first point guards like Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Ricky Rubio have been effective by getting their teammates involved, shoot first point guards like Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Kyrie Irving have taken over games in a different way.

Monty stated in his last interview before the draft that he wants two guys who can handle the ball at the end of games and either create for themselves or get an open look for someone else. He now has those guys in Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers. Which guy plays which position is a question only fans seem to worry about. Good coaches know that you draw up schemes and plays based on the skill sets of the players, not what positions they are listed at on the program.

Defensively, Gordon has the length and the quickness to guard either guard spot, and will usually take the more athletic of the two. Against OKC, he will check Westbrook. Against LA, he will face off against Bryant. Very few teams in the NBA have two elite guards that are both quick enough to take advantage of Rivers’ average lateral quickness. For the next year or two, Rivers will come off the bench as a spark and play spot minutes with Gordon, but the plan is for them to eventually work together in a way that will be similar to Parker and Ginobli, where they take turns sharing the ball and creating offense.

Outside of his “position”, Hornets fans seem to have the most concern with Rivers attitude. It’s no secret that Chad Ford is down on Rivers and has used nearly every platform to voice his opinion on the kid, but his is not the only opinion that exists. In fact, listen to the NBA Today podcast from 6/26. Ford hosts the podcast and brings on Dave Telep, somebody that Ford says, “knows these players better than anybody.” When Ford gives his opinion of Rivers, Telep disagrees and actually puts Rivers “alpha dog mentality” in his plus column. You know who says the same thing? Coach K.

Here are some excerpts from the Duke coach, hoping to set Mr. Ford straight

“He is an alpha dog. I think he will succeed in the NBA because of that. He believes he’s going to be great. I’d rather have a guy like that than a guy who doesn’t believe in himself.”

He also talks about where he would like to see Rivers end up:

“I hope he gets a demanding coach at the next level who pushes him to keep adding to his game. That’s how he’ll become great.”

That sounds like Monty to me. Coach K also talks about the lack of talent and leadership he had around him at Duke- another thing that won’t be a problem in New Orleans:

“We had a young team, maturity-wise, this year. I would’ve rather had him playing with Nolan Smith and Kyle Singer. I think they would’ve reacted better to his aggressive attitude. We didn’t always use his attitude properly.”

Look, you can nitpick any player in this draft not named Anthony Davis, but at the end of the day it is going to be about how willing the player is to work on those areas in his game that need improvement. By all accounts, working hard has never been an issue for Rivers and that same ego that everybody worries about will drive him to improve his game once he realizes that it won’t be as easy in the pros as it was back at Winter Park High School.

The truth with Rivers is that you can make whatever argument you want with him because there is plenty of ammunition on both sides. Is he selfish or was he forced to shoot because he wasn’t surrounded by talent? Is he cocky or confident? Is it a good thing that he has an alpha dog mentality or a bad thing? Honestly he can go either way and I have always felt like his career is more dependent on which team he goes to than anybody in the draft (with the exception of maybe Andre Drummond). Even if I weren’t a Hornets fan, I honestly couldn’t think of a better situation for Rivers than New Orleans.

Only time will tell.



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