A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Of Austin Rivers and how many skills are needed to succeed in the NBA

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Austin Rivers right now is the NBA’s William Hung. Someone bombing so horrendously that it’s become a fun story for the season.

Many people have delved into historically bad Rivers’ season, highlighted by stats such as his 5.6 PER to his .329 FG% and .399 TS%, to his -1.0 WS in 905 MP so far this year. Rivers is arguably one of the worst players the NBA has ever seen.

Rivers of course is a special case. No matter what someone’s methods were, there was almost no way to justify Rivers going in the top 20 of the draft if not for a combination of nepotism as Doc Rivers’ son and players who are ranked as top 5 prospects in high school, being given the benefit of the doubt if they struggle their first year. The stat-heads hated Rivers coming out of college due to his low production in the NCAA (16.8 PER, extremely low for a 1st round prospect – He was an inconsistent 15.5ppg volume scorer in college) and because most modern statistical studies of the draft consider inefficient volume scoring in the NCAA to have almost no correlation to NBA success, while favoring rebounding, assists, steals, blocks and efficiency as translating better. Wages of Wins has a decent track record using a regression model to predict NCAA to NBA success and ranked Austin Rivers outside of their top 60. Even if one didn’t pay attention to stat head analysis like that, it’s obvious that Austin’s poor production in college combined with mediocre athleticism and size for his position, wouldn’t have been enough to get him drafted in the 1st round if he had a different last name. Of course if you are familiar with this blog you will also know that I have my own way of analyzing draft talent based on equally weighting a player’s projected physical impact on the game, projected skill level and projected feel for the game and intelligence – and Rivers bombed that metric and did not measure out as a 1st round prospect at the time. Rivers lack of strength and athleticism make him a sub-par physical talent for a 2 guard, his skill level is absolutely horrendous due to his lack of a jumpshot or touch around the rim and he had as little feel for the game as any wing player in the draft, showing no spatial awareness whatsoever and often playing totally out of control at Duke. In fact Rivers ranked out of my top 30 at the time despite my grade for him at the time looking inaccurately optimistic. I gave him a very respectable 6 in the skill category giving his jumpshot the benefit of the doubt, when so far he’s been playing like a 1. With that adjustment to his grades he wouldn’t come near a draft-caliber player.

But getting past all that, I wanted to talk about something very specific with Rivers. Because while it’s clear he totally blows, he does do one thing exceptionally well. Rivers is an outstanding ball-handler. He might be the best ball-handling talent in his whole class. This guy is a natural moving with the ball. But in spite of this and ball-handling clearly being one of the most important traits a wing player can have, it’s clear it’s not enough. Not without a jumpshot, not without the ability to finish at the basket, not without above average athleticism, not with a skinny frame, not without any feel for the court or intelligence. What Rivers really proves is that an NBA caliber player generally can’t just do one single thing well. Just as Jason Kapono may be one of the best shooters in the world but is so incapable of other skills that he’s not in the NBA, or same goes for Hasheem Thabeet who’s talents went as far as being exceptionally long, or how Rafael Araujo had a strong body and that’s about it. A player has to have a combination of talents and abilities to perform at the highest level. It’s not just one skill that makes a player but a combination of them being used together. Austin Rivers’ can still have an NBA career, but he has to do one thing – He has to be able to hit 3pt shots at a consistent level. This combination of ball-handling and shootable would make him useable, at least. If he was a more physically dominant player in his athleticism and length and mixed that with his ball-handling, likewise this would be enough for him to get his 10 to 15 minutes off the bench long term. Or if he was a more intelligent players with better spatial instincts, together with his ball-handling he could find himself on the way. His problem in my opinion is that he just doesn’t have enough. When a player is called one dimensional but still in the league, chances are he has more than one dimensional. Kyle Korver may be “one dimensional” as strictly a shooter, but he’s been a skilled shooter, big for his position and he’s intelligent. Those are a few dimensions. Unfortunately for a guy like Rivers, he’s the true definition of a one dimensional player. Aside from his ball-handling he brings no talents to the table.

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Written by jr.

January 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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