Duke Basketball: Why Losing Austin Rivers Isn't a Bad Thing for the Blue Devils
Bye bye, Austin Rivers. We hardly knew ye.
The speculation of whether or not the star freshman Duke guard would go pro early ended rather early in the process with news that Rivers is hiring an agent and declaring for this summer’s NBA Draft after just a season in Durham, according to Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com.
Hardcore Duke fans may find this news pretty devastating, and in a way, it is. In his first and only season under coach Mike Krzyzewski, Rivers led the Blue Devils in scoring (15.4 PPG) en route to claiming ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
In a nutshell, Rivers was by far Duke’s best offensive player and arguably the only player on the roster capable of creating his own shot. Despite this, Rivers’ departure from Durham isn’t as devastating as some might think.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that Rivers leaving Duke is good for Coach K and company. It’s never a good thing to lose a talented player like Rivers after just a year.
However, four reasons come to mind as to why this isn’t that big of a loss for Duke.
Rivers Sometimes Hurt Duke's Offensive Flow
Let’s not kid ourselves here: Austin Rivers is a ball hog. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Rivers bailed Duke out of a lot of sticky situations this season with his offensive repertoire and his aggressive mentality, most notably with his memorable game-winning three against North Carolina back in early February.
However, I’m sure Rivers drove Coach K mad with some of the foolish and selfish shots he took throughout the season. For a team that has prided itself on ball movement and offensive discipline for decades, Rivers served as the total contradiction of this mentality.
Many times, Duke’s offense looked very stagnant and unsophisticated, thanks to Rivers and his isolation calls. The departure of Rivers will allow Krzyzewski to once again implement his effective drive-and-dish offense.
His Defense Was Very Un-Duke Like
Another aspect of Rivers’ game that likely gave Krzyzewski indigestion was his defense—or lack thereof. Duke’s team defense was uncharacteristically shoddy throughout the season, and Rivers was a big reason why.
His defense was a big question mark coming out of high school, and Rivers did little to dispel that notion as he now enters the NBA. Rivers' and Duke’s perimeter defense was very suspect this season and was exposed once and for all by the sensational C.J. McCollum.
The Lehigh guard dropped 30 on the Dukies as the Mountain Hawks stunned the Blue Devils in the second round of the NCAA tournament, winning 75-70. From a defensive perspective, I’m sure that the Duke coaching staff shed no tears over hearing that Rivers was leaving.
His Team Won Exactly Zero NCAA Tournament Games
As great as Austin Rivers was for Duke, major college basketball is still a results-driven entity, and he didn’t deliver in this department. I don’t have to remind the Cameron Crazies of how badly the season ended for the Blue Devils.
They lost three of their final four games to end the season, culminating in an embarrassing 75-70 loss to Cinderella Lehigh in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And so now Rivers goes down with the likes of fellow one-and-done guard Kyrie Irving as mere footnotes in the Duke basketball encyclopedia.
Both dazzled offensively during their cameos in Durham. But at the end of the day, neither was able to lead their teams to postseason success.
This Will Finally Deter Coach K from One-and-Done Players
For as much as fans like to taunt Kentucky and coach John Calipari for their pursuit of one-year players, Duke has now had a star player leave its program for NBA riches after a mere cup of coffee in college in each of the past two seasons.
First it was Kyrie Irving and now it’s Austin Rivers.
Maybe this finally gives Coach K the proof he needs that one-and-done isn’t the way to build a champion. For all the freshman phenoms that Calipari has produced while in Lexington, how many national titles has he won?
While his Kentucky team of one-year stars like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were throwing up bricks in their regional final loss to West Virginia in the 2010 NCAA tournament, Duke was winning it all with a core of veteran players like John Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek.
And now some are speculating that Rivers’ departure will allow Duke to pursue star recruit Shabazz Muhammad. Coach K would be wise to stay away from Muhammad, because of his questionable NCAA eligibility issues and for the fact that he’s likely to also be one-and-done.