Is the Criticism of Austin Rivers Founded?

Posted by mpatton on November 22nd, 2011

Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook broke down Austin Rivers‘ decision-making yesterday in an article for ESPN’s Grantland. He shows the discrepancy between Rivers’ college game and his high school game, as well as meticulously breaking down a couple of fairly frequent mistakes Rivers has made early on in the season. Pruiti is actually quite complimentary of Rivers, especially his ability to get to the foul line. And Pruiti asserts that Rivers can live up to the hype if the Duke freshman continues to adjust to the college game. Others have not been so optimistic. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander thinks that mentally “he’s not buying in to K’s system yet,” which “could push/pull all [year].” Norlander isn’t alone. During Duke‘s game against Tennessee my Twitter timeline was filled with people ripping Rivers for being overrated, immature and even an outright bust. Some were Duke fans. Some were journalists. Some were neither.

Duke Guard Comparison

Per Game Stats of Two Duke Freshman Guards (from Statsheet)

For comparison, take a look at these offensive stats from two Duke combo guards who came in as consensus top-three recruits in the table above. The right column is Austin Rivers through his first five games (the Tennessee game). The stats are eerily similar in scoring in everything down to field goal percentages. Looking closer Rivers even has a slight advantage in most of the shooting statistics, and a very large advantage in free throw rate. Rivers biggest deficiency is in assists, where the compared guard doubles his output. Everything else is very close.

Freshman phenom Austin Rivers is ready for Duke, but how quickly will 2011's top high school point guard perform on the big stage? (Orlando Sentinel)

Who is the other guard — none other than former Blue Devil All-American and NPOY, Jason Williams. The guy who went second in the NBA Draft after his junior year.

This isn’t to say that Austin Rivers will become Jason Williams. He’s probably a better scorer but he’ll never be the same facilitator. But to say that after four games he hasn’t bought in or is a complete bust is illogical. Rivers is certainly struggling to adjust, like nearly every elite prospect, to the bigger and faster players of the college game. As he gets more comfortable, his numbers should improve. Even if they don’t improve this year, it’s still far too early to write off his career one way or another.

mpatton (474 Posts)


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