A Rivers-Centric Lineup

Published: December 13, 2012
Rivers Intro

What would a starting lineup created solely to augment Austin Rivers’ skillset look like? Let’s take a look. (Warning: this is only a hypothetical starting 5 meant to emphasize Rivers and who he best complements and is in no way intended to be utilized as an actual NBA lineup with the intention of winning basketball games.)

PG/Combo Guard A – Austin Rivers

Rivers playing off the ball has been, up until recently, a necessity. The early-season play of Greivis Vasquez, seemingly in the midst of a breakout season, coupled with a severe case of greeness from Rivers, left no doubt who the primary (indeed, exclusive) initiator of the offense was to be. However, Vasquez has fallen off as of late, and a good deal of his struggles can be attributed to his inability to handle ball-pressure. He simply crumbles under it. Averaging 4 turnovers per game in his last 11, Vasquez has, more detrimentally, shown a penchant to pick up his dribble, which, coupled with an inability to consistently get around defenders in isolation situations on the perimeter, lead to frequently stagnant offensive possessions and hurried attempts at the rim in the final seconds. Although Rivers doesn’t possess Vasquez’s floor vision (though Rivers’ is a tad underrated and Vasquez’s a tad overrated thanks to inflated assist totals from a PG-centric Monty offense), he at least can counterattack ball pressure, and in late clock situations can consistently get by a mismatch on the perimeter to create chaos in the lane. It isn’t quite controlled chaos at the moment, but can be harnessed through reps with the ball, as opposed to keeping guard of the corner.

SG/Combo Guard B – Greivis Vazquez

Despite his problems with ball pressure, Vasquez still plays an important role, both as a ball distributor and as a team leader. He would be a fine complement to Rivers, who wouldn’t have to take the full reigns of the offense, and Rivers’ surprising propensity to defer would be best suited playing alongside a guard who can make the necessary pass or re-engage the offense. Although this back-court wouldn’t be especially adept at shooting the ball (this has borne out in actual circumstances rather than hypothetical ones when the two have started games together this year), you would have two capable ball-handlers, both with the ability to create offense in a different way. Defensively, it wouldn’t be as bad as it seems at first glance. Certainly, when Vasquez and Rivers start games together in the traditional sense (Greivis at “1”, Rivers at “2”), Vasquez’s slow-footedness is frequently exposed against quicker, more agile point guards (and his height advantage thus largely neutralized), but were Rivers allowed to primarily guard point while Vasquez took the “2”, he would be less prone to being blown by what are generally slower guards, while Rivers’ quick feet and solid lateral agility would serve him well guarding opposing “1’s” (most of Rivers’ defensive problems have come from getting lost in zone and being caught too easily in screens; his isolation defense and ability to move his feet are both more than functional, and certainly an improvement over Vasquez’s general slowness).

SF – Ryan Anderson

Penetrate and dish. This, for the time being, should be Rivers’ ideal and primary assist manufacturing scheme. The NBA’s best three point shooter is a good starting point. Besides merely being a waiting post on the perimeter, Anderson also has the ability to run the pick and pop with Rivers, and his quick feet can create even more space from the lagging defender. Anderson would also be a valuable asset in covering up the results of Rivers’ “incidental playmaking”, or as Grantland dubbed in a recent article*, ‘The Kobe Assist’, the idea that a player creates easy offensive opportunities for others even when he misses shots at the rim, by forcing the defense to collapse and leaving lanes open for offensive rebounds. Anderson, one of the game’s most productive offensive rebounders, would be bound to increase Rivers’ assist totals, both as a shooter and a recipient of his Kobe Assists.

PF – Jason Smith

Although his shot has been off lately, Jason Smith as a mid range pick and pop player has been a highly efficient scorer during his New Orleans tenure. The two showed a knack for attempting the pick and pop fairly regularly during Rivers’ brief stint on the bench, but a lack of consistent reps didn’t lead to much actual production.  The potential exists for a lesser version of the high post/mid range feasting that Chris Paul and David West frequently partook in.   A pairing of Rivers/Anderson and Rivers/Smith, a 6’10 and 7 footer who can both shoot the ball coming off of picks, has the potential to be a devastating offensive frontcourt. Smith’s ability to get weakside blocks would also help to diminish Rivers’ rookie defensive mistakes.

C – Anthony Davis

Despite being a rookie himself, Davis and Rivers playing together demonstrate the ability to enhance one another’s strengths and minimize one another’s weaknesses. Offensively, Davis had shown a knack for scoring around the rim and flashed a decent jumpshot; he is not a consistent shot-creator, yet. His freakish length and nose for the ball make him a prime contender to rack up ‘Kobe Assisted Shots’ whenever Rivers collapses defenses, and his pure speed coming off the pick and roll is a tantalizing option (as demonstrated by the beautiful alley-oop between the two on Tuesday night vs.Washington). Davis seems the obvious choice for just about any point guard regardless, but one could argue that Vasquez, for example, fits better with the equally plodding Robin Lopez, who sets much stronger picks but gallops down the lane more slowly, both giving Vasquez his necessary separation and still being available by the time Vasquez has turned the corner. Davis, on the other hand, sets “quicker” picks and rolls much faster, and is thus suited to someone who doesn’t need as much “artificial” separation created by the pick and who can take advantage of his agility. Davis’ aforementioned jumpshot also makes defenses play a bit tighter, so that his rolls become that much more effective the more his jumpshot improves ( and which would, coupled with the already formidable shooting tandem of Anderson and Smith, essentially invert the traditional roles of NBA teams when it comes to jumpshooting in this lineup; a frontcourt that collectively shoots better than its backcourt). Defensively, he and Jason Smith would be abused by the bigger/stronger frontcourts in the league, but in a Rivers-Centric lineup, they are both effective sieves through which penetrating guards can be funneled.

(Sidenote: In closing, would this be an effective NBA lineup? Not likely; it is highly susceptible on defense, both on the perimeter against even average NBA athleticism and in the post against an even moderately strong frontcourt. Al-Farouq Aminu and Lopez both help to shore up those areas as members of the actual starting 5. Would it be fun? Absolutely.)

* Kobe Assist


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