Despite losing to New York yesterday, the Hornets look like a completely new team with Eric Gordon finally back. That came at the expense of rookie Austin Rivers, who started most of the season at the two guard in Gordon’s absence. Now, he’s been relegated to the bench, and Rivers hasn’t played 20 minutes in any game in 2013 while shooting just 3-for-23 during the same span.
Some might argue the two developments (Rivers playing less/Hornets winning more) go hand-in-hand. Actually, pretty much everyone would argue that. After all, Rivers is shooting under 33 percent. The team is 2.1 points per 100 possessions better when he sits. And most alarmingly, Rivers is sporting a PER of 5.5, which – if he kept it up this year – would be the worst mark ever by a rookie who averaged at least 25 minutes a night (Rivers is currently at 25.3) in 60 games (modest assumption for his season). Even Adam Morrison finished with a PER of 7.9 back in 2006-07.
Despite his rough start to the year, Rivers is still just a rookie with one year of college experience. Everyone knew he’d take time to develop – he’s a smaller scoring guard that doesn’t have elite athleticism. But Rivers, unlike a lot of other rookies who looked out-matched over the years, really wants to get better. Basketball is his life. It’s all he cares about.
In fact, he has so little life outside of the hardwood that his own father thinks it’s part of the reason he’s struggling in the NBA.
Longtime NBA scribe Sam Smith had a recent conversation with Doc Rivers, and wrote:
But Doc said it’s tough to distract his son from basketball: “Austin is too much basketball, and the reason he’s so up and down is because of that,” Doc said. “It’s a good learning point for him. Austin is the (Tom Thibodeau) of players. He is 100 percent basketball. I talked to him last night, and he’s talking about this game, other games, and I asked, ‘Did you do anything else?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to do anything else. I just want to be in basketball.'”
The younger Rivers has always been about basketball. From challenging Celtics one-on-one to basically using HoopMixtape to create his own personal year-long highlight video during his senior year of high school, Rivers is the type of cat you’d see in a mall, in a grocery store, at a restaurant and think, “That dude’s a basketball player.” You can just tell. What Doc Rivers said is not surprising.
Coming out of Duke, many pictured Rivers as another Monta Ellis: definitely not a point guard, and possibly a defensive liability, but a guy that could create off the bounce, score 15-20 points a night, and make ballsy shots. While that comparison now looks pretty distant in one regard – Ellis might be the fastest player in the league… Dion Waiters (another rook) told me recently he’s THE fastest player he’s ever played against – Rivers still has the same undying relentlessness and love of the game that had so many initially hooked.
The younger Rivers is struggling now, and the elder is right in that he’s probably beating himself up too much over the missed shots and the turnovers. But in the end if Austin Rivers does turn it around, that basketball obsession might be the reason why.
What does Rivers need to do to get better?
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