As we get closer to the NCAA Tournament, NBA Draft Blog will be taking a closer look at underclassmen whose play or potential warrants the possibility that they could declare for the draft. Sophomores and juniors will get full scouting reports now, but freshmen I will handle a bit differently right now. Without a full college season under their belt, I believe the best approach will be to break the report down into 2 broad sections – what skills and abilities they have shown so far, and what I would like to see them do in the next 6-8 weeks. Once the season is over, they will receive a full scouting report.
Today I am looking at Duke’s star freshman, guard Austin Rivers. Rivers came in with a reputation as a great scorer, and he has shown flashes of that this season. Is his game ready for the NBA right now?
Austin Rivers (6’4, 200, G, 14.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 45.0 FG%, 41.0 3FG%, 65.0 FT%) came to Duke with a reputation as a “me-first” player, and early on this season he did little to dispel that notion. However, as the season has progressed so has Austin Rivers’ game and attitude. Seemingly, he has the offensive skills to play in the NBA very soon, maybe as soon as next season, but there are still plenty of things he needs to work on to live up to his potential.
On the offensive end, Rivers gives Duke their only player capable of breaking down a defense off the dribble. He is a solid ballhandler, has a quick first step, and is capable of taking the ball strong to the basket or to pull up for a short jumper. He is at his best when handling the ball off of a high screen, with the ability to get into the lane or step back and hit a long jumper. Shot selection is still a major issue for him, settling for long jumpers when he can get a better look or find an open teammate. Also, he will need to work on getting open when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Ideally, he will improve his passing and court vision allowing him to operate as a point guard at the next level, especially as the ballhandler in pick and roll situations.
Defensively, I think Rivers is slightly underrated. Fundamentally, he does many things correctly – positions himself well, has good lateral movement, and he does a good job getting through screens. He needs to watch his tendency to overplay his man looking for the steal, which leaves him off-balance, and he needs to do a better job closing on perimeter shooters more aggressively.
As of now, I think Rivers would be best served staying another season and developing his point guard skills, if he was to declare, I have tough time thinking that he would make it past the late lottery to mid-first round based on his scoring potential. If he waits another season, and develops as I discussed, he could easily find himself in the Top 10.
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