Austin Rivers sat in a cushy folding chair in the visiting locker room at Golden State.
The 20-year-old was hunched over, his chin resting on his palms, staring ahead at the big screen 10 feet ahead that was playing film of that night’s test, the Warriors' backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Each night, including this one in mid-December, is a new challenge for the New Orleans Hornets rookie and former Duke standout. Rivers said:
Ultimately, as a competitor you want a challenge and that’s what it has been. As a freshman, I started off a couple games playing all right, and then it just clicked. It seems this season I have been up-and-down trying to find consistency as a rookie.
After his first two months of the season, the No. 10 overall pick is averaging 7.6 points and 2.6 assists in 29 games played.
“It’s just fun to try to figure yourself out, figuring ways to succeed and get things going,'' Rivers told me. "You just have to keep it going because it’s such a long season.”
Things are moving at a quick pace for Rivers, the son of former NBA player and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Two years ago he was a high school senior, last year he was starring for the Blue Devils and now he is starting for the worst team in the Western Conference. Rivers said:
When you’re in college or high school, you have other things to take your mind off it when things aren’t going right. You just feel like a kid. Up here, there’s no time for any of that. You have to adjust quickly, especially for us rookies who had only been in college for one year.
Nothing makes a young player adjust quicker than going up against the league's elite. Rivers, in a November win against the Los Angeles Clippers, found himself, after a screen, matched up against one of the league’s top players, Chris Paul. Rivers said:
We’re having a good game and I’m having a good game, we were up by a couple points and Chris Paul is trying to score on me with like a minute to go. I’m not thinking this in the moment, but I’m like, ‘wow.’ After the game, I’m sitting there thinking this is crazy going from playing with him in video games and watching him on YouTube to suddenly being in these guys’ scouting reports and them being like, ‘What does Austin like to do today.’
That’s just crazy. It makes you want to work harder. For a lot of people it might make you settle like ‘Oh, I made it.’ To me it’s like, 'man I want to work even harder.'
Rivers is sharing the rigors of a first season in the NBA with fellow lottery pick and No. 1 overall selection Anthony Davis. The former Kentucky standout is off to a better start, scoring 14.7 points on 49.2 percent shooting while grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game in 17 appearances this season. Rivers said:
It’s neat for me because I get to share it with someone else who is going through the same thing. Me and Anthony were the same. We were No. 1, No. 2 or whatever in high school, went to big-time colleges, and now we are here as rookies.
We are going through the same types of things, up and down, finding our consistency. It’s just the same thing. It’s just crazy, you just have to deal with it and mature on and off the court.
Rivers, however, is part of a class of lottery picks who have struggled thus far this season. Still, it's far too early in his career to declare him a bust.
Through the lens of Rivers, it’s clear that perspective is everything in a league that requires growth, especially for young players.
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