As the NCAA tournament heads into its final weekend, one team that’s conspicuous by its absence is the Duke Blue Devils.
No Duke player loses more for not playing in the Final Four than Austin Rivers, who’s already announced that his first season of college ball will also be his last.
Rivers gave Duke fans some outstanding performances in his lone season on campus, and he’ll be remembered forever in Durham for his Tar Heel-crushing buzzer beater in Chapel Hill.
Success under Coach K, though, hasn’t always translated into a thriving NBA career, and Rivers’ chances look far from rosy.
He shared ball-handling duties at Duke, but given that he posted more turnovers than assists, it’s clear his NBA future is primarily as a shooting guard. He’s a fine penetrator and a versatile shot, but his 15.4 points per game is hardly a world-beating figure, even at the college level.
He was a respectable three-point shooter (58 treys on .365 shooting), but not overpowering. He’s not likely to hold down a job as a J.J. Redick type whose long-range game makes up for any other inadequacies.
Defensively, Rivers wasn’t bad enough to end up in Redick (or Mike Dunleavy Jr.) territory, but he wasn’t outstanding either—in spite of being the son of a wonderful backcourt defender in Doc Rivers. He’s also going to be fighting a bit of an uphill battle matching up against bigger NBA 2-guards at just 6’4”.
Perhaps Rivers’ greatest strengths are in the intangibles category. As the son of a player and coach (and a Krzyzewski pupil on top of that), he’s a tremendously smart and confident player, and his performance at UNC was just one example of his impressive clutch ability.
It’s entirely possible that Rivers will grow into an NBA success story, but don’t expect him to turn in a Kyrie Irving-style rookie year.
He’s certainly got potential, but without elite size and strength, he’s most likely to wind up as a shooting-guard equivalent to Chris Duhon: strong bench player, occasional starter.