Austin Rivers: Confident, Charismatic, Can't Really Shoot
[Austin Rivers “7” Drill” video via Adam McGinnis]
“I think I’m the best player in the draft, as far as being prepared for the league. That’s just me being a competitor,” uttered Kansas forward Thomas Robinson to the media after his workout for the Wizards last Wednesday. He later said his statements were not a personal affront to Anthony Davis or any other player, but that he felt like his experience and numbers at Kansas were worthy of that number one spot.
Duke guard Austin Rivers did not make such a grandiose statement after his workout for the Wizards on Friday, because his charisma said enough. He asked the media how they were doing before his interview, he looked every question asker in the eye, he cracked jokes about his younger brother (Spencer) and older brother (Jeremiah, former Georgetown Hoya), he smiled every now and then, and he spoke about the importance of thinking — even if it’s not true — that he’s the best, too.
Rivers, Terence Ross (University of Washington) and Tomas Satoransky (Czech Republic) worked out together for about an hour in front of Wizards coaches and personnel. Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was scheduled to be included in this same workout, but the Wizards announced at the last minute he would workout alone at an earlier time. The media was allowed to see two drills with the three players: A full court running drill, which required them to hit a shot from the elbow, before running back down court, and the “7 Drill,” which former Wizards coach Flip Saunders once eloquently described as a mental test of heart.
Rivers was less than impressive in his shooting drills. During the full court drill, his shot looked similarly tough to watch as John Wall’s, at times. Instead of stopping, jumping, and then shooting in one fluid motion, Rivers had a bit of a hitch in his release. And when his shot did not go in on one side of the floor, he attempted to jump a little and change the release point on the next, but it ended up looking mechanical and uncomfortable — just like a Ledell Eackles jump shot. Rivers appeared to be trying to guide the ball in the basket, and on a couple of occasions, he took four and five steps before releasing the ball–much more than the three steps the NBA allows a select few to take.
During the 7-Drill, Rivers once again struggled to find a good rhythm — partly because his jumper was just flat off, and partly because the fatigue monkey had found a home on his back. As the missed shots started to mount, so did Rivers’ frustration. At one point, he cursed loudly, and then lazily laid the ball in the basket. Coach Randy Wittman clapped and encouraged him to get six (not seven) more shots, and eventually cut the drill short. Not exactly the type of performance you expect from a coach’s son, a player who went to Duke, or a prospective lottery pick. It was just a drill, right?
It brought to mind an observation by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, when he watched Rivers practice at Duke back in October of 2011:
Early in a drill where the first-team offense was attacking a 2-3 zone, Rivers drove from the left wing, into converging defenders, and was divested of the ball before he could make a play. He hung his head and didn’t engage in transition defense, at which point a whistle was blown. It was made clear that Rivers’ body language was not going to be accepted, nor was his carelessness with the ball. “It’s not an AAU game — it’s a Duke basketball game at the highest level,” Krzyzewski said. “Every possession is important.”
If Rivers gets demonstrably frustrated at the lack of success in a simple drill — a mental test — it seemingly doesn’t bode well for a kid getting ready to play against the best basketball players in the world. This gives credence to the critics who said Rivers was immature, selfish and in need of at least one more year of tutelage from Coach K and staff. I suppose that lack of maturity, as cringe-worthy as it was, could easily be explained away by Rivers’ age (19), or his quest for perfection on the court. But again, Duke, not the NBA is better suited to handle that type of issue.
Yet, when Rivers was asked about his tough shooting afternoon and the difficult nature of the Wizards’ workout overall, he was completely unfazed:
I’ve done that drill before, so when I made that first one, I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to make seven in a row.’ Then once you get to nine, you start getting into trouble — ‘Oh Lord, this isn’t good.’ [Coach]Wittman was like, ‘Make six,’ and I made six, and I got out of there. If I do that again, hopefully I don’t have to do all that… This [workout] is tough, but I loved it though. A lot of guys complain about workouts, but at the end of the day, you get better doing all this different stuff. There were a lot of pick and rolls and one-on-one actions, but it’s really just the pace. You go hard every time. It’s not ‘shoot two shots here, and now, let’s see how your layups go.’ It’s just competing. Everybody wants to beat each other.
Realistically speaking, Rivers’ chances of donning a Wizards uniform are slim to none. Washington needs a backcourt compliment to John Wall, and there are other prospects who are a much better fit. Bradley Beal, who had an impressive workout for the Wizards on Thursday, is a true 2 guard whose shooting and rebounding is far superior to Rivers’. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lacks the personality and offensive moxie of Rivers, plays above-average defense, and is three to four inches taller than Rivers. Harrison Barnes, who played in the ACC with Rivers, gets criticized for being passive at crucial times, but his overall offensive game has the polish NBA scouts and coaches love to see. Not only is Rivers’ skill set really not needed here D.C., but one could argue that the Wizards already have a slightly older version of him named Jordan Crawford.
None of this stopped Rivers from trying to convince the media that he belonged on the Wizards’ roster:
I really feel like I honestly fit in this program. I’m very close with John Wall, I’ve been friends with him for about two, three years now. I think I can play with him and the pieces they already have here with the athletic players, and they have shooters like Rashard Lewis, they just have tons of pieces here. I really feel like I can help this organization and help John out with the ball.
Of course, no discussion about Austin Rivers would be complete without a mention of his father, Boston Celtics coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. Doc played for the Hawks, Knicks, Clippers and Spurs over his 13-year career, and he’s coached 11 years in the NBA — four with the Magic and seven with the Celtics. Doc has exposed Austin to the NBA his entire life, and he’s told his son to “stay true to himself” during this NBA draft workout process.
Unfortunately for Austin, his father also recently took some not-so-subtle shots at the Wizards in an article by ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullan. Rivers justified his decision to limit the minutes of rookie guard Avery Bradley by criticizing the Wizards:
I look at the Washington [Wizards] model, where they played Andray Blatche and those guys, and what did it teach them? That they’re going to play them anyway?
Washington Examiner writer Craig Stouffer asked Austin Rivers about his father’s comment. He quickly retorted: “Be mad at my dad, not me, I don’t know what he’s talking about. He didn’t say that to me.”
It is highly doubtful that any member of the media would be upset with Doc or Austin over this comment. But Doc’s statement could indirectly shed some light as to why Austin is so eager to play in Washington. He knows he’ll play early and often.
Rivers seems to possess the qualities of a shorter, less flashy Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry (as Bill Simmons has mentioned on his podcast). If he’s hot, he’ll earn more minutes, but if he’s not, he doesn’t possess the ability to defend, to rebound or to be a playmaker. In his Mock Draft 7.0, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford predicts that Rivers will be drafted 13th overall by Phoenix Suns, which seems perfect given that Steve Nash and fellow Dukie Grant Hill could assist the maturity process (assuming there’s a chance for them to return to Phoenix; both are unrestricted free agents).
But in Washington, Rivers would just be just another ball-stopper.
Enter Small Ball
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