COMMENTARY | The only thing New Orleans Hornets fans can agree on these days is that Anthony Davis will someday be a star. Everything else, from Monty Williams' rotations to whether Eric Gordon fits into the Hornets' long-term plans, elicits fierce debate among New Orleans fans. Even the name change to Pelicans gets Hornets fans buzzing.
Another topic that is sure to stir up fans is Austin Rivers. From Twitter to New Orleans internet forums, Hornets fans either label Rivers a bust or believe he can be a solid NBA guard in a couple of years. Except for a handful of very impressive outings, Rivers has struggled mightily for most of his rookie season.
However, Eric Gordon's inability to play two days in a row coupled with Monty Williams' desire to give Rivers significant minutes in a rebuilding season have given the Hornets' 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft every opportunity to impress New Orleans. Is Austin Rivers improving as the NBA season wears on?
Statistics do not tell the full story of Austin Rivers' trials and travails this season. However, the one stat that Hornets fans have bemoaned with respect to Rivers has been an epically bad plus/minus score. With Rivers on the court, opponents have outscored New Orleans by 145 points.
Still, as a collective unit, the Hornets' bench has been deplorable this season. If not for Ryan Anderson, there's no telling how bad New Orleans' bench would have looked at times. So Austin Rivers should not shoulder all the blame for the Hornets' poor bench play.
Looking more specifically at Rivers' game, his most glaring weaknesses are poor free throw shooting and bad passing. Rivers is only shooting 54.5 percent on free throws for the Hornets. On defense, he falls for numerous veteran moves while playing man defense and often gets lost, leaving perimeter shooters wide open.
However, Monty Williams' faith in Rivers is paying off as he has improved incrementally over the last month. Throughout the season, Rivers' best move has been driving the lane for a layup. You'd think this move from an inexperienced guard would either result in a block with the ball landing in the cheap seats or an easy charge. But more times than not, Austin Rivers either makes the shot or gets fouled.
This move is why Rivers needs to become a better passer for New Orleans. If he could develop better court awareness, he could spot open Hornet teammates as defenders collapse on him in the lane. Lately, he has become a better passer as his confidence seems to be growing. In fact, he has not committed a turnover since the All-Star break.
Not that this makes someone an effective player, but Rivers always gives New Orleans fans great effort. He hasn't let the criticism get to him as he continues to play his heart out every night for the Hornets. Thanks to his improved play, Rivers is actually a plus-four in the aforementioned plus/minus stat in February.
No one is predicting that Austin Rivers will someday be a perennial NBA All-Star for New Orleans. But it's becoming clear that he's definitely not a bust either. When the Hornets become the Pelicans, Rivers will likely be a solid contributor to what should be a playoff contending team.
Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. Patrick has followed the Hornets since they moved to New Orleans and has covered the team since 2010. He 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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