New Orleans Hornets guard Austin Rivers has been one of the most disappointing rookies in this year's freshman class, but there's still time to fix the weaknesses in his game. The No. 10 overall pick is averaging a paltry six points per game while playing around 23 minutes a night.
Rivers has become a walking contradiction. He's a young guard with great confidence in his skills, but appears gun-shy when he's out on the court. He's a excellent dribbler and can attack the basket, who only gets to the line on an average of less than twice a game.
He excelled as a shooter at Duke, but is only shooting 33 percent from the field and 31 percent from the line (stats as of Feb. 1).
The biggest issue that needs to be fixed with Rivers is his aggressiveness. He needs to develop a rhythm and he can't do that with the inconsistent amount of attempts he's had over the last few games. Let's a take a look at Rivers' output over the past week.
2/1 @ Denver: 18 minutes, 4-of-6 shooting, eight points
1/30 @ Utah: Five minutes, no shot attempts (Keep in mind that Eric Gordon didn't play in this one)
1/29 @ Los Angeles: 23 minutes, 3-of-8 shooting (0-of-1 from behind the arc), nine points
1/27 @ Memphis: 21 minutes, 2-of-4 shooting (1-of-2 from the three-point line), six points
1/25 vs. Houston: 20 minutes, 3-of-11 shooting (0-of-2 from three), six points
Since the start of the new year, that Jan. 25 game against the Rockets was the only time Rivers had reached double digits in shot attempts. From Jan. 7 to Jan. 15, Rivers scored all of one point, attempting just nine shots in five games. That isn't the kind of production one would expect from a kid who was as dynamic a college scorer as Rivers was.
Rivers has all of the tools to be an offensive spark off the bench for the Hornets. Instead, his reluctance has led to that role being filled by veteran Roger Mason Jr. New Orleans has seen flashes of Rivers' potential this season. Here's a look at the rookie's career night against Minnesota on Dec. 14, when he lit up the Timberwolves for 27 points.
In this video, you'll see a number of the things that Rivers does well. Despite an awkward shooting form, Rivers has the range to be dangerous from behind the arc (especially if he's left as open as Minnesota left him in this game).
At the :33-second mark, you can see Rivers break down Luke Ridnour with his superior ball-handling skills. With his quickness and ability to beat defenders off the dribble, there's no reason why Rivers should not routinely attack the basket every night. Even if his jumper doesn't fall, he can still be a productive piece simply by playing aggressive and getting to the basket.
The key for fixing Rivers' game is for head coach Monty Williams to find a concrete role for his rookie guard and to get him a consistent number of minutes. Rivers can't find a comfort zone if he's playing 20 minutes one night and then five minutes the next. They should also draw plays for Rivers that play to his strengths.
As you can see by this shot chart, Rivers is at his best when he takes his shots from the right side of the court. He's also good at nailing the three at the top of the key, where he is shooting 57 percent this season.
Rivers was very ball-dominant in college. For most of his freshman season at Duke, he created for himself. It was his lack of court vision that led some be skeptical about his ability to be an NBA point guard.
When paired with a excellent facilitator like Greivis Vasquez, Rivers can find his stride by playing off the ball and letting Vasquez put him in a position to score.
The Hornets should scrap the idea of making Rivers into a point guard and work on improving him as a scorer off the bench. It's too difficult to attempt to change Rivers' mentality from scorer to distributor. Until Rivers shows the vision to get others involved, it's best that the team just utilize his unique gifts as a scorer and allow him to contribute to the offense in a way he's more comfortable with.
The first few months of Rivers' pro career have been rocky, to say the least. That has more to do with Rivers' psyche than a lack of talent. The Duke standout pressed too hard in the early part of the season and, after struggling to find his way, has reverted to a timid shooter unsure of how to play.
What the future holds for Rivers remains to be seen. A trip to the D-League may be beneficial, as it would allow Rivers to start from scratch and build up his aggressiveness. The team also needs to find a more defined role for Rivers, while the rookie should focus on playing off the ball and letting the offense come to him.
Rivers has never lacked confidence, but as teammate Roger Mason Jr. pointed out to NOLA.com, the pressure to produce is clearly affecting how the rookie plays.
"He's a competitor, but like I tell him he puts too much pressure on himself," Mason said. "He has to realize this is a new experience for him. He's super talented, but he doesn't have to think as much. When you keep working hard, good things are going to happen. Everybody goes through tough periods; I'm just trying to let him know he'll get through it.".
It's too early to label Rivers a bust. The problems with his game have more to do with what's between his ears than anything he can or can't do with the basketball in his hand. That issue can be fixed by allowing Rivers to find his stride and play with the confidence he's known for having.