New Orleans Hornets: 5 Point Guards Austin Rivers Should Study
New Orleans Hornets rookie Austin Rivers will join a long list of college shooting guards who attempted to make the transition to point guard in the NBA. It's an experiment with a track record of more misses than hits.
Usually, if a guy is too small to play shooting guard in the pros, a team tries to match him up with players his size at point guard. But some players have gotten away with being undersized shooting guards.
Allen Iverson, who is 6'1", pretty much became the poster child for that description. A.I. won a number of scoring titles as well as an MVP and earned a trip to the NBA Finals while with the Sixers. Pound for pound, "The Answer" was one of the NBA's greatest players.
But there are plenty of examples of the experiment failing. DaJuan Wagner, who is 6'2", was supposed to be the second coming of Iverson after an illustrious high school career in New Jersey and a much-maligned year at Memphis. Instead, Wagner never found his groove in the pros and injuries forced him out early.
Juan Dixon was a national champion at Maryland playing off the ball, but couldn't quite hack it as point guard in the pros. The same has been true for former Villanova guard Randy Foye.
For Rivers, who is 6'4", to avoid joining the ranks of Dixon and Foye, here are a few guards he should emulate to avoid becoming another 'tweener who couldn't hack it.
Jason Terry, G, Boston Celtics
Jason Terry has had a lengthy career as one of the game's best combo guards. He's a scorer at heart, but at 6'2" and 180 pounds, he doesn't have the ideal size to be a shooting guard. Rivers' frame is similar to Terry's, except Rivers has a couple inches on "The Jet."
With teams playing smaller lineups in today's NBA, Terry has managed to get away with playing most of his time at shooting guard. Early in his career with the Atlanta Hawks, Terry spent a majority of his time running the point. In the 2000-01 season, Terry led the Hawks in steals and assists while also averaging 19.7 points per game.
Terry has managed to be successful with a wicked jump shot and a willingness to attack the basket despite his thin frame. It is a style that Rivers should emulate.
Terry doesn't have gaudy assist numbers. He's averaged more than five assists per game just once in his 13-year career. Still, Terry was able to get his teammates involved while not sacrificing his ability to score.
Rivers should watch how Terry uses his body when attacking the basket. Despite his size, Terry has managed to stay healthy throughout his career.
Rivers can also learn how Terry decides when to facilitate and when to take it himself. Teammates enjoy playing with Terry because, while he's more of a scorer than passer, he doesn't have the selfishness of most shooting guards.
Of the guys you'll see on this list, Rivers resembles Terry the most physically. If Rivers could be a Jason Terry 2.0, the Hornets should be more than satisfied.
Mo Williams, G, Utah Jazz
Depending on what you feel best characterizes him, Mo Williams is either a scoring point guard or an undersized shooting guard. He has assumed both roles in the NBA.
Last season, he shared the court with Chris Paul and has played together with point guards like Daniel Gibson in the past.
Williams is only 6'1", but, unlike Jason Terry or Austin Rivers, he has a thicker frame. He has put up decent assist numbers and managed to score in double figures. As a point guard with a scorer's mentality, Williams is the kind of point guard Rivers should emulate.
While a good shooter, Williams doesn't rely solely on his jumper. He attacks the basket but also has the vision to kick out to teammates while penetrating. It is that kind of instinct that Rivers needs to master.
If he can find a way of moving the ball while simultaneously drawing the defense toward him, Rivers could be a huge asset to the Hornets as a point guard.
Rivers' ability to get others involved will be his greatest test as he makes the move to point guard. Williams has struggled with calling his number too often at times, particularly when he was playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland.
Still, as a scoring guard capable of playing both guard spots, Williams is one of the best players for Rivers to learn from. His ability to remain a passer while attacking the basket will serve Rivers well in the long run. It will also create scoring opportunities for him.
Williams has had a steady NBA career and been a solid contributor on a few playoff teams. The Hornets should be happy if Rivers can manage to serve as one of the team's best scoring options while still putting up decent assist numbers like Williams has throughout his career.
Chauncey Billups, G, Los Angeles Clippers
There are quite a few things Austin Rivers can learn from studying Chauncey Billups.
First, Rivers can learn how to lead. When the time comes for Billups to hang 'em up, he'll still have a future in the sport as a coach. He does a great job as a floor general.
Second, if Rivers can manage to put some bulk onto his frame, he could watch the way Billups uses his body to back down defenders. Billups is a bigger point guard at 6'3", 210 pounds, which is why he's been able to play both guard spots. Being able to post up opposing point guards would be a great element to have for a scorer like Rivers.
Third, Rivers could study Billups' flair for the dramatic. There's a reason Billups has earned the nickname "Mr. Big Shot." He's one of the most clutch shooters in the game.
Obviously, being clutch is not something you can teach. However, a scorer can develop a confidence during late-game situations. Rivers showed off his own big-shot capabilities with his buzzer-beater against North Carolina.
Billups is a complete point guard. He can shoot. He can attack the basket. He is a willing facilitator, yet has many facets to his game as a scorer. He knows how to get teammates in position when he's on the court and isn't afraid to take the big shot. He's also a decent defender.
Rivers doesn't quite have the bulk to emulate Billups completely. However, as the son of an NBA head coach, he could develop into a leader. He can earn their respect by coming up big in big moments and could become a more devastating weapon if he develops a post game.
With a locker room devoid of veterans, the Hornets need someone to lead the franchise. Billups has managed to do that, which is why he's an NBA champion who always finds a home despite his age and a history of injuries.
If Rivers could be even half the leader Billups is, he will make a huge mark on a young Hornets franchise.
Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
OK, it may be a bit unfair to ask Austin Rivers to follow the Russell Westbrook blueprint. Few players, regardless of position, possess Westbrook's brand of athleticism, explosiveness and instinct. In just a few short years, Westbrook has established himself as one of the game's best players.
Rivers would be hard-pressed to match what Westbrook brings to the table.
That being said, when comprising a list of college shooting guards who have become successful NBA point guards, Westbrook is at the top. He played off the ball alongside a more traditional point guard in Darren Collison at UCLA. When he was drafted by the Thunder in 2008, he was too small to continue the same role in the NBA.
At 6'4", 187 pounds (which, oddly enough, is 13 pounds lighter than Rivers), Westbrook is undersized for a shooting guard. However, his athletic ability has allowed him to play the two-guard role in certain moments for Oklahoma City. When the Thunder need Westbrook's offense to take pressure off Kevin Durant, they pair Westbrook with a more traditional point guard much like his days at UCLA.
Still, Westbrook has put up solid assist numbers for a guy who is the second scoring option for one of the best teams in the league. Westbrook has averaged a little more than six assists per game. In the 2010-11 season, he averaged 8.3 assists while also managing to score 21.9 points.
Again, it may not be realistic to ask Rivers to be the second coming of Westbrook because he's not quite as talented. Still, Rivers is a dynamic scorer just like Westbrook. If he can learn to defer like Westbrook is slowly starting to learn, Rivers can develop into a solid franchise cornerstone for New Orleans.
Even if Rivers can manage to be a poor man's Russell Westbrook, you'll live with that if you're a Hornets fan.
You just hope that Rivers doesn't copy Westbrook's horrible fashion sense.
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
When the idea of moving Austin Rivers to point guard was first mentioned, the first name that came to my mind was Stephen Curry. Like Rivers, Curry was a college shooting guard who was asked to transition to point guard in the pros. Like Rivers, Curry was an accomplished scorer in college.
Curry's assist numbers at Davidson weren't very promising until his junior year. Curry averaged a little more than two assists a game his first two seasons at Davidson, while also managing to score more than 20 points a game and shoot a little better than 40 percent from behind the arc.
Rivers wasn't much of a passer at Duke, either. He averaged 2.1 assists in his only season with the Blue Devils while scoring 15.5 points per game and shooting 36 percent from three-point range.
Curry's and Rivers' games are so similar, they might as well be twins. Both are the sons of former NBA guards. Both are deadly shooters. Both are a work in progress as point guards.
Curry has started to get a better handle on playing the position and being more of a distributor. He's averaged at least five assists in each of his first three seasons. He's also averaging 16.6 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 44 percent from the three-point line. Injuries have kept Curry from showing what he can do on a more consistent basis.
As for Rivers, it would be great for New Orleans if he can follow in Curry's footsteps. Curry is living proof that a college sharpshooter can be at least adequate as an NBA point guard. When healthy, Curry is one of the league's rising stars. Rivers could be in that category as well.
Like with all the other examples you've seen, the biggest thing Rivers will need to learn is balancing when to pass and when to shoot. At Duke, Rivers was the team's best scoring option. That can't happen in the pros with young guys who are sensitive about their touches.
Curry is the closest comparison to Rivers. They are built the same. They have the same game and the same pedigree. However, it will take time for Rivers to be what Curry has already managed to become in such a short time.
If Rivers is committed to being an NBA point guard, he should let Curry show him how it's done.