The loss of rookie guard Austin Rivers is a slight blow to the New Orleans Hornets defensively, but it won't have much of an overall impact on the team the rest of this season. NOLA.com's Jimmy Smith is reporting Rivers will undergo surgery on his right hand, which will end what has been a disappointing season the No. 10 overall pick.
Rivers broke the fourth metacarpal bone in his shooting hand in the Hornets' March 6 loss to the Los Angles Lakers. The injury occurred when the former Duke guard stole the ball from Lakers forward Antawn Jamison.
As a whole, Rivers' debut season has left much to be desired. After leaving the Blue Devils with a reputation for being a dynamic scorer, he has struggled to find an offensive rhythm, averaging just 6.2 points per contest while shooting just 37 percent from the field and 32 percent from the three-point line.
According to 82games.com, Rivers was dead last in the NBA among players logging at least 40 percent of their team's minutes in the site's "simple rating." According to the site, the "simple rating" is a "production measure for a player's own stats versus the counterpart player on the other team while he is on the court, as well as a simple on court/off court plus minus." As of Feb. 24, Rivers' rating was -9.2, which tied him with Phoenix Suns forward Marcus Morris.
Things were starting to look up as of late, however. Before breaking his hand, Rivers shot 5-of-6 against the Lakers, finishing the night with 10 points and a steal. He also shot the ball particularly well in games against Orlando and Detroit.
Rivers said after the loss to the Lakers—a game in which the Hornets blew a 25-point lead and didn't score in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter—that he was starting to feel like he was gaining momentum.
"The past couple of weeks, the last month and a half, two months, I was starting to grow and play a lot better," Rivers said. "In the past couple of weeks, I was really starting to get rolling."
In what would be the final three games of his rookie season, Rivers scored a combined 26 points and only turned the ball over once. He also shot a little over 70 percent from the field for the month of March.
Whether Rivers could have kept the momentum going the rest of the season is a question that will never be answered. What we do know is he was the team's best defensive guard and his absence on that end of the court is where he will be missed the most.
Rivers' Effective Field Goal Percentage Allowed was 50.5 percent (according to 82games.com), which was just under Roger Mason's 50.4 percent as the best on the team. The Hornets could have used his defensive prowess in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, when Kobe Bryant scored 13 of his 24 points during a 20-0 Los Angeles run to close out the game.
The 15 minutes Rivers played against Los Angeles was the best he's played since his 27-point performance against Minnesota back on Dec. 14. In this video, you will see why he should study the tape from this game meticulously to prepare for next season.
Right off the bat, Rivers' defense jumps out as he opens the clip with a steal. He then proceeds to go coast-to-coast for the bucket. That is the Austin Rivers the Hornets need to see in the future. They need him to be active on the defensive end and then aggressive with the basketball in transition.
At the 12-second mark, there is another one of Rivers' attributes that the Hornets would like to see more of: his excellent ball-handling skills. Whether it was improved confidence or the Lakers' lack of sound defense, Rivers showed a willingness to beat his man off the dribble and attack the basket.
If he's going to be the scorer the Hornets hoped he'd be when they drafted him, Rivers is going to need to utilize his handle more often and get to the basket. Until he shows improvement in his jump shot, frequently getting to the basket is going to be his best bet at putting up points.
If nothing else, Rivers' abbreviated performance against the Lakers gives Hornets/Pelicans fans hope for next season. In the meantime, his injury opens the door for undrafted rookie guard Brian Roberts.
Roberts was averaging around 14 minutes per game, but with Rivers and Eric Gordon (still not cleared to play in the second half of back-to-back games) out, he got the starting nod at shooting guard in the team's March 10 showdown with Portland.
Roberts played a career-high 43 minutes in his first ever start. He scored nine points and dished out nine assists and was the first player not named Greivis Vasquez to lead the team in assists in a single game this season.
While undersized to play the 2-guard spot at 6'1", Roberts has the potential to be an offensive spark off the bench. He doesn't bring the defensive presence that Rivers did, but an increase in minutes should help a team that is currently 21st in the NBA in scoring.
In this highlight reel from Roberts' performance against Toronto on Feb. 10, here are some things that the former Dayton standout brings to the table. First, you'll notice that Roberts is a bit quicker than slow-footed starting point guard Greivis Vasquez. Twenty-two seconds into the video, Roberts gets by his man and goes in for the lay-up.
He's also a capable three-point shooter, going 2-for-3 from behind the arc against the Raptors which included a trey coming off the pick that you will see at the 28-second mark.
One of the biggest issues Rivers has had all season has been the ability to consistently hit three-pointers. With Rivers out and Roberts in, the Hornets get a boost in that area. The team could also flirt with the idea of playing Vasquez a little at shooting guard and letting Roberts run the point.
With not much left to play for, Rivers' absence won't mean much for New Orleans. It is tragic that the injury comes just as the Duke guard was gaining momentum, but that has been the story of the Hornets this year. It seems like every time the team is moving in the right direction, a key guy goes down and throws them for a loop.
Rivers' defense will be missed, but the additional minutes for Roberts will improve the team offensively. The biggest hope in the future is that Rivers can pick up next season where he left off and salvage what was starting to look like a floundering career.