NBA Draft: Austin Rivers leaving Duke after one season


Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports is reporting that Duke freshman Austin Rivers has declared for the NBA Draft.

I couldn’t be happier.

I was lucky enough to watch basically Rivers’ entire career in high school. He won the Florida state championship his junior and senior seasons at Winter Park High School. I went to his last 10 high school games. What? He’s my favorite player.

At Duke, Rivers was underutilized. This was no surprise playing under Mike Krzyzewski. Rivers was obviously featured as much as possible in high school and scored around 30 points per game his senior season. Every opportunity to score, he took. That wasn’t the case at Duke at all.

It really should have been though to some extent. Duke totally lacked players who could create off the dribble this season other than Rivers. This always held them back trying to rely on Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton to run the offense when neither could get by tough defense. It worked for a lot of the season but it was inevitable that by the end of the season, Duke was going to have to rely on Rivers more, and the fact that he wasn’t prepared for that and handed over the point guard job was a failure on Krzyzewski’s part.

Rivers obviously isn’t a point guard as far as his DNA goes. He’s a cold-blooded scorer. But if Rivers is going to make it in the NBA – measured 6-foot-5 with shoes on – he will probably have to play at least some point.

He really didn’t get that chance at Duke. The reason is he doesn’t initially look like a point guard on the floor. He’s not a great passer and misses open guys on occasion to try and force his own shot. Early in the season this resulted in Rivers getting called for charges or some low-shooting percentage nights. Duke was still always at its best with Rivers creating off the dribble though.

This is my problem with college basketball. It’s more about the coaches and the school than the players. I loved Duke this year because of Rivers so it was naturally very frustrating for me to watch. Sure, he played more minutes than any Duke player but the ball should have been in his hands much more. The fact that this was not addressed is amazing. Duke lost in the NCAA tournament in the first round to Lehigh showcasing the same problems they had all season long.

When I first heard the news that Rivers had picked Duke as his college choice I was very pleased. I thought it would help him with his defense and discipline overall. Now, I’m glad he got out of there as quickly as possible. The college game and especially Duke’s is not for him. He was born to play in the NBA, there’s no question there.

Rivers was initially projected a lottery selection but this draft class has grown in depth and now he is more likely to be selected around pick number 20.

I’m happy with this because it means he will likely get picked by a better team and I think for him that will be good. If he were to be selected by a lottery team and labeled their star of the future I would fear he could become a bust.

His greatest skill is his elite first step. It is as good as any player in college and already elite at the NBA level. He has NBA three-point range but he’s not a catch-and-shoot guy so I wouldn’t expect a high percentage from three early in his pro career. He is a good penetrator and finisher but lacks some explosion and elevation that you see in the NBA game so I don’t think this will be a huge strength for him immediately.

He moves like a combination of Derrick Rose and Deron Williams but isn’t the athlete that Rose is, but who is? His handle will always be as good as any player in the league but it has always been used to create for himself. With the extra space in the NBA game Rivers will have more opportunities than in college to learn to be more of a playmaker for others and expand his game.

For the first few years of his career I’d project him to be a similar to pro to what O.J. Mayo has become. Down the road he has the potential to be an All-Star as a two-guard but since he isn’t the athlete that a lot of young players are coming into the league, that’s not something I see happening until he is considered a veteran.

Some sites are saying that Rivers is still a lottery pick but I expect him to be picked around 20th. Here are the teams picking from 10-20 as of their current records this season:

10. Milwaukee
11. Portland
12. New Orleans
13. Utah
14. Phoenix
15. Houston
16. New Jersey
17. Boston
18. Denver
19. Atlanta
20. Philadelphia

Those teams sound much better than Charlotte, Washington, Toronto or Detroit.

The coolest thing that could happen would be if Boston picked him and he played for his dad Doc Rivers. That’s definitely what I’m rooting for but I’ll also be okay with Utah, Houston, Phoenix or Denver.

I’ll finish with this: if there’s one thing I’ll say with confidence about Rivers it’s that he will succeed. I can’t imagine anything otherwise. He has a great foundation around him and work ethic and attitude that’s determined to be the best. I can’t imagine many teams being disappointed with a guy like that.