Draft Watch: Austin Rivers


Yesterday’s article highlighted Minnesota’s need for a dynamic shooting guard.  One with unlimited range, good athleticism, and a great basketball I.Q.   Minnesota attempted to solve this issue two years ago with the drafting of Wesley Johnson with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, but as most people know that is not working out so well.  This leads David Kahn and his front office back to the drawing board in search of the next great shooting guard.

Duke University is well known for it’s college basketball dynasty, but players who make the leap from Duke to the NBA typically don’t experience the amount of success that other powerhouse schools like North Carolina (Jordan, Worthy), UCLA (too many to name),  and Connecticut (Ray Allen, Rudy Gay) do.  While Duke has had some good NBA players like Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Kyrie Irving, Grant Hill, and Shane Battier, there have also been a lot more players who lost relevancy in the NBA.  There also happens to be Shelden Williams, William Avery, Christian Laettner, etc.  This year shooting guard Austin Rivers hopes to break the Duke ‘curse’ and build a successful NBA career.  I say curse lightly because although Duke is a great school, most of the NBA greats rarely hail from the Durham, NC institution.

Austin Rivers was one of the more highly touted freshman in recent memory.  The son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers arrived with high expectations of leading the team to a national championship. Rivers is a little short for a shooting guard at 6′ 4″, but he makes up for the lack of size with a 6′ 7″ wingspan.  Also, it’s not like being too short ever stopped some great NBA players in the past (Steve Francis, Allen Iverson, Eric Gordon to name a few).  Like most freshman, Rivers had an up and down season for his team.  While Rivers posted respectable stats, most scouts harked on more mental aspects of his game.  Much of the time he looked uncomfortable on offense, and this was demonstrated with a modest shooting percentage (43.3%, 36.5% from three, 65.8% free throws) and a pretty low assist/turnover ratio (.91). Rivers also averaged 1.0 spg and got to the free throw line 5.4 times per game.

There were, at times, flashes of the flashy dominant scorer people thought Rivers would be.  The best example is the North Carolina game, scoring 29 points in addition to hitting the game winning three pointer (one of his six 3-pointers) as time expired.  Two other factors to consider are that 1) This game was nationally televised on ESPN, and 2) He did this on the road in Chapel Hill.

Yes, I realize that one game is not statistically significant enough, but it’s a great example of how he can handle pressure at the most intense moments of the game.  The Timberwolves need a player like this, and while they won’t ask him to be Kobe or Durant, it would be reasonable to expect him to piece together a solid rookie season if the Wolves landed him with the 18th pick.  If Rivers can work on his shooting struggles he can more than make up for the disappointing Johnson pick.  He is a player who is able (and willing) to create his own offense, and he can get to the line with ease due to his knack for driving to the basket.

While he may or may not be there with the 18th pick, Minnesota should definitely consider picking Rivers.  He is personally my #1 choice with that pick, and while many may disagree, I see the potential he has to be great.

Next up: Dion Waiters, Syracuse