Austin Rivers, son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, was one of the most highly touted freshman recruits in the country following his eye-popping high school campaign. Headlining a strong Duke recruiting class, Rivers failed to live up to his lofty expectations and became best known for his inconsistencies as a scorer in his lone college season, eventually declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft following Duke’s early exit in the NCAA tournament.
Starting with his physical composition, Rivers possesses decent size for the shooting guard position, standing at 6 foot 4 inches and weighing in at just over 200 pounds. He is not a particularly muscular prospect and has narrow shoulders and a thin frame. What he lacks in bulk, he makes up for with his speedy feet, body control and superb athleticism. He is a fairly long guard with a wingspan of 6’7”, and is an extremely athletic combo guard who can take over games due to his incredible ability to score from almost anywhere on the court.
Rivers was a very streaky shooter for the Blue Devils, and found much of his success when shooting off the dribble, needing very little space and time to get a shot off over his defender. He is very comfortable shooting when guarded closely, and is very accustomed to taking off balance and fade-away jumpers. He burst onto the scene for his clutch shooting with his tremendous game winning 3-pointer in Chapel Hill, as he knocked off UNC at the buzzer during the regular season. While Rivers has established himself as a threat shooting the ball, he possesses mechanical flaws that can be attributed to his inconsistencies. During his release, his right elbow tends to flail out, and he will need to keep his elbow tight to his body in order to keep a good line on his trajectory. He maintains a good, high release point and does a nice job of elevating on his jumpers. Rivers does not lack any confidence shooting the ball and has assumed the role of primary scorer on each team he has played on to date. He also displayed the ability to hit shots extending out to NBA 3-point range, and this should ease his transition to shooting from long distance at the next level. In order to find success in the NBA as a SG, Rivers needs to drastically improve his play off of the ball. He is most comfortable shooting off of the dribble and in one-on-one situations, but at the next level he will need to improve his movement and positioning without the ball. He needs to see the floor and better anticipate which areas on the court to fill in order to put himself in opportunities to score. Also, he will need to gain comfort moving off and around screens while catching and shooting on the run.
Rivers proved himself to be an impressive ball handler and a very crafty dribbler, finding angles and slipping through opposing defenses. He is very sleek and possesses great handles while keeping the ball low and tight to his body. He has a lightning quick first step that allowed him to blow past most college defenders this past season, and demonstrates excellent agility in the open court. Rivers is able to quickly shift his weight and change directions when moving with the ball and is incredibly shifty and crafty as a dribbler. One of his greatest assets as a ball handler are his hesitation moves, which provide him enough time to quickly accelerate and blow past his defenders. He relied on the pick-and-roll for a large part of his offense, and his success in that respect will help him in the NBA, where the pick-and-roll rules all. While Rivers can tend to settle for poor, contested jump shots, he consistently attacks the rim and rarely strays from driving to the hoop. When driving on opponents, he is very creative about gaining separation from his defender and utilizes his explosiveness and shiftiness to create sufficient space in order to get a shot up over his opponent. He is very effective at dribble penetrating opposing defenses and exploits the small windows that defenses give him. However, he tends to favor driving with his right hand and must develop more moves with his off hand at the next level. At the rim, Rivers can try to do too much and often settles for low percentage, off balance looks. Due to his smaller stature, he is unable to absorb contact well and instead attempts to avoid contact. However, he used the teardrop to near perfection, and as the season progressed, he improved in his ability to go into defenders and draw fouls, where he converted a reasonable 66% of his free throws.
While Rivers is almost constantly attracting double teams, he displays a very poor ability to get his teammates involved and to find open teammates. To put it simply, he has an extreme scorer’s mentality and can be considered a selfish basketball player. Although he can get hot and light up opposing defenses at any time, he does an extremely poor job of recognizing when his shot is not falling and does not make his teammates around him better. Rivers was a very inadequate passer and should be considered purely a scoring combo guard.
Rivers is a fairly capable rebounder from the perimeter due to his agility and athleticism, but he lacks the ability to bang down low on the offensive and defensive glass. When getting inside position for rebounds, opposing frontcourts have an easy time blocking and keeping him out of the lane. Adding mass will affect Rivers ability to rebound at the NBA level, as he will only face bigger, stronger, and more athletic opponents.
On the defensive end, Rivers was not a difference maker. Although he possesses great foot speed and lateral quickness, he did a marginal job of staying in front of defenders and often bit at ball fakes, allowing his opponents to slip past him. Too easily were his opponents able to penetrate into the defense and Rivers appeared lackadaisical at times. He did not display good basketball IQ as a defender, taking unnecessary risks and creating scoring opportunities for opposing offenses. Due to his wiry frame, bigger guards are able to body Rivers up and assert themselves physically. On the help side, he was inadequate in his rotations and did not demonstrate good concentration or effort. In order to become a better defender, he needs to develop patience as a defender and must consistently give full effort on both ends of the court. Adding muscle mass will be key for Rivers as he currently lacks ideal size and strength for his position. It is up to him to decide how good of a defender he wants to be.
Although Austin Rivers has gained a lot of attention for his flash and impressive scoring capability, there are glaring holes in his games and many question marks in his transition to the NBA. He will most likely end up going to a team where he will not be the first scoring option, and he will need to find success playing a smaller role in a teams offense. Whether or not Rivers can function as a second, third, or even fourth scoring option remains to be seen, and his game beyond one-on-one scoring is not very impressive. However, he does have an elite first step and could very well end up being an elite scorer in the NBA, but must bring the energy and focus on the defensive end while finding ways to incorporate his teammates on offense in order to properly contribute to his future team.
Follow Austin Rivers on Twitter @AustinRivers25
Photo Credits: The Urban Twist