This is the first of PBT’s review of players in the 2012 NBA draft, we will be running these regularly up through draft day, with plenty of other content to follow.
Austin Rivers is not a guy sliding under the radar in this draft — he’s the son of former NBA player and Celtics coach Doc Rivers and a starting guard with Duke last year. Doesn’t get much more high profile than that.
And he’s got NBA game. The real question seems to be is he willing to fit it in the NBA style.
Rivers is a 6’4” two guard who can play the one sometimes, a combo guard. If you’re looking to criticize, the word you’re looking for is tweener. He’ll have a hard time defending two guards, and he’s a guy looking for his own shot with the ball not dishing like a traditional point.
But we’re nitpicking a guy who is a lottery pick. Draft Express has him going No. 15 (and they are one of the best sources for following the draft run-up). I was able to catch him a couple times on television (turns out Duke gets a lot of air time).
Rivers plays like a coach’s son — good shooter well out to the NBA three point line and he plays a smooth, confident game. He’s also got good handles, the hesitation move of a mature player and a good crossover move that helps him create space for his shot. He can get to the rim and DraftExpress notes his finishing at the rim improved as the season wore on.
The guy can score, the question again is getting him to do that within the system. ESPN’s Chad Ford has said his game seems modeled after Kobe Bryant — the swagger, the scoring — but Kobe is a different level of athlete. Kobe breaks out of the offense but can pull it off. Rivers is a solid NBA level athlete but he’s not elite (meaning he’s no Derrick Rose, John Wall, etc.). Rivers is going to have to adapt his game at the NBA level, improve the skills he has and work within the offensive system to get his — be a guy who can catch-and-shoot (he shot just 33 percent on those at Duke) not just score off the bounce. And if he wants to stay on the floor he has to improve his defense.
At Duke Rivers seemed to try to get his own shot to the detriment of others at times and it hurt the team. And his college PER 16.85 isn’t blowing anyone’s doors off (it’s just above average).
Still, Rivers is a smooth, smart player who can put the ball in the basket (15.5 points per game, shot 36 percent from three). At the end of the day that is what this game is about. It may take Rivers a while to adapt, the way it took Klay Thompson and many before him some time to adapt. But you’ve got a guy who can be a solid future NBA starter or sixth man here who isn’t going to hurt you.
Now the big question — if he fell to 21, would Danny Ainge bring him in and let him be a Celtic? He likely would be the best player on the board at that point, but oh that would be an awkward situation. Ainge is praying that Rivers is taken higher and he doesn’t have to deal with it.
He most likely will not have that problem. Rivers may take a little while to develop, but he should have a good NBA career ahead of him.