Coach Krzyzewski sticks up for Austin Rivers before draft

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Austin Rivers is not the most polarizing guy in this draft – we’re looking at you, Andre Drummond — but he’s on the list.

Rivers has unabashedly modeled his game after Kobe Bryant. That has upside — he has a real drive to score, he has the ability to shoot outside or get inside, he’s smooth, he has a great basketball IQ (like you expect from a coach’s son).

The flip side is he comes with a swagger and a belief that he is the man who should be shooting more than others. Rivers is going to get to the NBA and find he is not the best athlete at his position (he’s an average NBA athlete, not John Wall or Derrick Rose or young Kobe). The defenders are longer and faster, getting his shot and taking over games is less of an option. Can he become a more willing passer? Some scouts have doubts.

ESPN’s Chad Ford had doubts, but Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski called up Ford to defend Rivers.

“He is an alpha dog. I think he will succeed in the NBA because of that,” Krzyzewski said. “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.”

Valid point. It’s a question of can the hubris be reined in a little. Coach K thinks this is a coach’s son who will adapt to what is best for the team. Coach K called Rivers “very coachable.”

“When Austin came to Duke, I told him that every player is like a house: The more skills you learn, the more windows you have on your house. When he came to Duke, he had one really big window. He was an amazing scorer. The goal was to add more windows to his game. He’s in that process right now.

“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. If he reverts back to just doing the thing he does well, his chances lessen that he’s a good player in the NBA.”

Some teams are very high on Rivers and I’d be surprised if he slips out of the top 10 tonight. But I think the team he lands on and the coach does matter. If he goes to a bad team that needs scoring and just gives him a green light, that may not be best for his development.