Austin Rivers has yet to play a single official minute in the NBA, but he's already one of the association's biggest enigmas. Expert analysts, the media and even our fanbase have furiously debated what to expect from this former high school prodigy. At the Hive's very own Nikkoewan and Pueblo88 have both posted articles in the last several months attempting to shed some light on expectations. So what is my take as an ardent supporter of Rivers even prior to the Hornets using (or as some would have it: wasting) their 10th overall pick on him?
Who is Austin Rivers?
In his only season at Duke, Austin Rivers was a ball dominant scorer, as the majority of his made field goals came unassisted. Per Synergy, he ranked in the top 5 combined in pick and rolls and isolations. Where he shot from the floor didn't matter as he took 31% of his shots at the rim, 29% from 2 point territory and 40% from beyond the arc. Despite the variety, his efficiency was borderline lousy: a .538 TS% and a very subpar assist to turnover ratio.
No surprise then that many fans were looking forward to watching him participate in the 2012 Summer League. Unfortunately, none of it went according to anyone's plan. He played largely poorly in 2 games and then proceeded to miss the remainder of play due to injury. Not two weeks later, it was announced Rivers underwent successful surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle.
Tempering Immediate Expectations
What do Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Louis Williams, Mike Bibby, Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford and Brandon Knight all have in common? During their age 20 seasons, they all posted fewer than 2.0 win shares. Subsequently, a year from now, don't be surprised to see Austin River's name appear among this group. He still has much to learn and grow. For instance, he needs to improve his form on his shot, both at the line and from the perimeter, learn to play off the ball, develop into a better a distributor and become more consistent defensively. In addition, as we witnessed in Las Vegas, his body needs to fully mature in order to be able to handle the grind of an 82 game schedule.
Thus, don't be surprised if the majority of his games are underwhelming. A season that produces a sub 41.5 FG% and 72.5 FT%. An assist to turnover ratio worse than 2 to 1. However, amid the mediocrity, do expect to witness flashes of potential and some meaningful improvement.
Longterm: Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
This is meant to be a season preview, but considering the somewhat disappointing 2013 outlook, a discussion on what lies beyond is a must. This is the crux of the argument on why many of his proponents believe in Austin Rivers. It is going to take time and plenty of patience.
Rivers possesses a number of positive attributes including athleticism, confidence, determination and a game made for the NBA. Jay Bilas wrote an article listing Austin Rivers among 1 of 6 incoming rookies that might possibly develop into very good players:
Rivers is so good with the ball and has such an uncanny ability to get past defenders and get into the lane that I believe he will do very well in the NBA. He is quick with the ball and can get his own shot, and defenders have a tough time staying in front of him.
Put Rivers in the NBA, where the rules will benefit that skill, and you have an offensive weapon. Rivers is a good shooter but can still refine his perimeter shot, and he needs to be a more consistent handler and passer, but he is a willing defender and willingly takes on challenges. Some have questions about his demeanor or "cockiness," but I don't. Rivers competes and will be very good in the NBA.
In addition to the attributes, Rivers has shown the necessary ability to make adjustments in relatively quick fashion. Although his Duke shooting %'s were below average, he significantly raised his 2pt FG% during the final two months of the college season. Even in the tiny sample size of his Summer League appearance, we saw him mildly transform from a volume shooter to a palatable distributor.
Austin Rivers is probably not going to be the 10th best rookie this season; however, Dell Demps and company didn't select him for this reason. Rather, they and many others strongly believe that he will be one of the top players from the 2012 Draft in approximately 3 years. This is apt considering it will likely take this period of time before the Hornets are considered to be legitimate championship-caliber material. One needs to look no further than how the Spurs successfully molded Tony Parker as to what Demps is envisioning. Just give him a chance.