Austin Rivers, taken 10th overall in the 2012 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets, is having just about as bad of a rookie year as humanly possible.
He’s shooting the ball poorly, his defense isn’t much better and while he looks a little better now than he did in November, his improvements have generally been marginal at best. Even after only two-thirds of a season in the league, Rivers has struggled enough that it’s worth considering if he can ever be a productive player in the NBA. Luckily, in spite of the many glaring flaws Rivers has displayed, he’s not without some talent, so it wouldn’t be a shocker if within the next year or two he looked like a much better player than he does now.
One big thing that works in Rivers’ favor is his athleticism. A lot of the points he has managed to score this year have come when he’s been able to successfully attack the rim. He’s solid when it comes to getting past defenders, and putting in easy layups. Unfortunately, he’s been struggling at pretty much everything else. His shooting is poor from pretty much every part of the floor, but he’s especially egregious on shots between three and 10 feet, where he’s shooting a dreadful .260. Oddly enough, he’s doing considerably better from 3-point range, where he’s shot .325, which while nothing special, is actually somewhat decent, especially when you consider how awful he’s been on every other spot on the floor. If he can improve his overall shooting, while becoming just slightly better from beyond the arc, he could certainly become a decent offensive player.
But what’s preventing him from being productive already? Well, part of it just comes with the territory of being a rookie. The transition to the NBA isn’t easy for anyone and shooting guards seem to have a particularly tough time time, as they’re used to playing weaker defenses and having more open looks. Rivers is facing a much higher level of talent than he did at Duke and it’s clearly having an averse effect on his game. Still, his problems can’t be explained away by this lone factor. Fellow rookie shooting guards Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal have also had their struggled from the field this season, but each is still managing a higher shooting percentage than Rivers (Waiters is at .400, Beal is at .396), so this can’t be the only factor.
One of the biggest knocks on Rivers was that he was a bit arrogant before he had really done anything. He seemed to believe his own hype too much and while confidence might be a good thing, he went a little far with it. This might have a bit to do with the problems we’ve seen him have this year. Perhaps Rivers didn’t realize how much tougher things were going to be at the professional level. He seemed to think he could just enter the league and do the same things he did at Duke–maybe even more than that–but so far, he’s fallen well short of that, looking like a boy lost in a man’s world. Hopefully, Rivers is learning from the adversity he’s facing right now and from now on, he’ll approach things with a different attitude.
Austin Rivers has far more talent than what he’s demonstrated this year. He’s certainly rough around the edges, but don’t let his rookie season fool you into thinking he’s a lost cause. With a little polishing, he could turn into an effective scorer, in the vein on Monta Ellis or Louis Williams. Maybe he’s not quite that good and he ends up being a bit more like Nick Young, but still, he can be a lot better than what he’s been so far and in a few years, he’ll likely become a productive NBA player and his rookie struggles will seem like a distant memory.