COMMENTARY | A new chapter dawned for the New Orleans Hornets when they selected Anthony Davis with the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. But Davis wasn't the Hornets' only top 10 pick. New Orleans also drafted Austin Rivers out of Duke.
The player I wanted the Hornets to draft, Damian Lillard, was not available. I thought Rivers was a decent pick, but I didn't understand why the Hornets drafted a shooting guard after signing Eric Gordon to a max contract. Then I heard New Orleans would try to convert Austin Rivers to point guard, which didn't make much sense either.
What I saw of Rivers in the Summer League and early in the season was a player with heart who still had a lot to learn. Rivers' strength was a decent ability to drive the lane and draw fouls. However, he lacked the court vision to kick the ball out to open teammates when the defense collapsed on him. Austin Rivers also shot three-pointers and free throws very poorly, thus minimizing the benefit of his propensity to draw fouls.
At the very least, I knew that Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon's starting jobs with the Hornets were not in jeopardy. Since Gordon has returned for New Orleans, Rivers' minutes have decreased dramatically. Knowing that his time on the court is limited, Austin Rivers now seems to be pressing. In his last eight outings, Rivers has averaged about 13-and-a-half minutes per game, has scored a total of nine points, and is one of six on free throws.
It's important to remember that the NBA Draft and NFL Draft are very different in many ways. With two fewer teams and five fewer rounds, the 10th overall pick in the NBA Draft is comparable to a second round NFL Draft pick. The term "lottery pick" is unfortunate because most late lottery picks do not have the talent to become NBA superstars.
Several factors are conspiring to make it virtually impossible for Austin Rivers to ever be a fulltime starter in New Orleans. Greivis Vasquez has emerged as one of the better point guards in the NBA. He is third in the NBA in assists and has shown the ability to score 25+ points when necessary.
Eric Gordon is now healthy and for two seasons, all the Hornets do is win when he plays. New Orleans is 11-5 all-time with Gordon in the lineup. Austin Rivers is not even the first option as backup point guard for the Hornets thanks to the solid play of Brian Roberts.
While it's easy to pile on Austin Rivers for his early NBA struggles, we should all keep in mind that he's only 20 years old. From all accounts, he works extremely hard at practice and puts in a lot of extra work. If the Hornets and their fans are patient, Austin Rivers can be a solid guard off the bench and a key contributor to what should be a playoff contender in New Orleans in a couple of years.
Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. A loyal New Orleans NBA fan, Patrick was a diehard New Orleans Jazz fan and now cheers for the Hornets. Patrick was in attendance the night the Hornets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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