Why New Orleans Hornets' Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon Won't Co-Exist
That isn't to say that drafting Rivers with the 10th overall pick was a mistake or that Rivers will be a failure in the NBA. Rivers could be a viable sixth man who provides offense off the bench. He is also nice insurance to have in case the injury bug continues to bite Gordon.
However, turning Rivers from a college shooting guard into an NBA point guard won't be worth the trouble. Attempting to turn college gunners into solid pro floor generals has failed more often than it has succeeded.
It didn't work for former Maryland star Juan Dixon. It didn't work for DaJuan Wagner and it didn't work for Randy Foye.
The best-case scenario of this type of experiment working out is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has managed to be one of the best point guards in the league despite being a two-guard at UCLA. Still, even Westbrook seems to be more effective at times when someone else is playing the role of facilitator.
Stylistically, Gordon and Rivers are too similar to share the backcourt together permanently. Gordon is an excellent shooter who likes to attack the basket and create offense for himself. Rivers is also a good shooter who excels when allowed to call his own number.
For this to work out for New Orleans, somebody is going to have to sacrifice shots and defer to the other. That's not going to go over smoothly.
For starters, asking one of your best scorers to give up the ball more limits your offense. You want your best offensive weapons to put themselves in the position to put up points. The team would be better suited having current starter Greivis Vasquez handle the distributing duties because the team can live without his offensive contributions.
By allowing Rivers to be the offensive leader of your bench, you strengthen your second unit just by having someone who can pick up the scoring slack while the starters rest.
Instead of trying to make Rivers into the Hornets' version of Russell Westbrook, he could be the team's James Harden. Harden is the defending Sixth Man of the Year. It's a role he's comfortable with, and it has also worked out well for the Thunder.
A good backcourt works best when one guy is the go-to guy and the other commits to making those around him better. It takes a certain mindset to be an effective facilitator.
If you have two guys with a scorer's mentality in your backcourt, you have two guys who will be looking to create for themselves. As good of a coach as Monty Williams is, he can't just suddenly suppress Rivers' instinct to do what he does best.
Gordon wasn't given a max contract to defer to Austin Rivers or anyone on the team for that matter. Until Anthony Davis develops into a bona-fide star, Gordon is the face of the franchise.
The drafting of Rivers already ticked Gordon off earlier this summer. Why further aggravate one of your best players by forcing him to share a backcourt with someone he once believed was his replacement? Why disrupt team chemistry by trying to force two like-minded players to be a cohesive duo?
What backcourt duo is the best option for New Orleans?
In the grand scheme of things, the best move for New Orleans is to have Gordon as its go-to guy and let Rivers be their ace off the bench. You can't force a shooting guard into a point guard's shoes.
With Gordon being so brittle, it pays to have someone like Rivers as a Plan B. What happens if the team tries to make Rivers into a point guard but then he has to fill in for Gordon once he gets injured? Does Rivers suddenly go from pass-first to shoot-now? How will that affect the psyche of a young rookie?
The Hornets are fortunate enough to have a good amount of young talent. However, they'll be doing themselves a disservice by trying to make one of their best pieces into something they're not.
Austin Rivers is a shooting guard. Eric Gordon is also a shooting guard. They can share the court in spurts to provide offense but it won't work out as a long-term answer. Nothing in Rivers' highlights at Duke suggest he can excel in the NBA by running point.
You can't force chemistry. Sometimes, you just have to let your pieces fit where they are most comfortable, even if it means they don't fit together.
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