Top 10 pick Austin Rivers debuts at point guard for the New Orleans Hornets in their preseason opener Sunday afternoon. To win the starting job over incumbent Greivis Vasquez, the rookie must be in attack mode.
Running the point wasn't what Rivers was projected to do in the NBA, as most scouts labeled him as a 2-guard. However, plugging him into that position with the re-signing of restricted free agent Eric Gordon doesn't make much sense on a roster that is thin at the point.
A frequent knock on Rivers is that he uses his ability to create his own offense to settle for outside jumpers, where he is very streaky.
One of the most trusted names in the NBA scouting world, ESPN's draft analyst Chad Ford had some extremely harsh words for Rivers in an exchange with renowned sportswriter Bill Simmons back in June on Grantland.com:
He thinks he's Kobe. He's not. He doesn't have the length, the height, nor the athletic ability. Take those things away from Kobe, and he's Ricky Davis — an irritating ball hog no one wants to play with and who isn't good enough to warrant the diva act.
If all the concerns about Rivers could be captured in a nutshell, Ford just did it in a very colorful way.
The ability Rivers has to create his own offense should allow him to get penetration in the pros, and he has exceptional size for a point guard standing at 6'5" with shoes on.
Although he may be a so-called ball hog, Rivers will have no choice but to defer much of the scoring load to Gordon. It could be argued that both are similar players, but their styles could serve as a symbiotic relationship to open up shot opportunities for both of them.
Not to mention. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis will be starting at center. He is essentially a guard trapped in a center's lanky body, thanks to a huge growth spurt in the middle of high school.
Davis will have to adjust to the professional level just like Rivers, but having a big man in the post who can pass is such an asset when there are deadly shooters on the outside such as Rivers, Gordon and the newly acquired Ryan Anderson.
The former Orlando Magic forward will get a shot at his old team right off the bat, as the team's official depth chart slates Anderson to start at power forward for New Orleans.
Rivers' ability to penetrate the lane should be enhanced by both Davis and Anderson's abilities to spread the floor. Even Davis is capable of knocking down a 15-foot jumper.
The personnel the Hornets have will create isolation situations for Rivers, which is where he thrives. What he shouldn't do is force shots in those situations, but rather take his man off the dribble.
That delegation of responsibility would be uncharacteristic for Rivers, but it would be in his best interest in his first NBA season.
If he looks to get to the bucket more frequently, it open up a wealth of opportunities for his teammates, make one of last year's least productive offenses more explosive, and likely net Rivers a starting job by the end of training camp.