Austin Rivers vs. Harrison Barnes: Which Underclassman Has More NBA Upside?

Richard Scheuermann@@RJSureCorrespondent IJune 27, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Austin Rivers and Harrison Barnes are two of the most intriguing prospects in this year's NBA draft, but which of the two has more to offer as they ascend into the world of pro basketball?

Rivers and Barnes have several things in common at this point.

They were both highly sought-after high school prospects that wound up playing in the ACC at rival schools.

Rivers has always garnered an enormity of attention due to his pedigree, but an NBA coach for a father certainly isn't the only thing he's got going for him—he kid can play.

Barnes was ranked by ESPNU and as the No. 1 high school prospect in the country before he elected to become a North Carolina Tar Heel.

Both players have grown accustomed to the limelight due to their preceding reputations and, for the most part, both became successful college basketball stars.

Yet as basketball players, the two are quite different.

Player Overview: Austin Rivers

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Austin Rivers is an offensive specialist who had the ability to put on a clinic at times during his lone season at Duke. Rivers boasts a nearly unlimited repertoire of offensive abilities. highlights Rivers' main attributes as his all-around shooting ability, blow-by first step, great ball handling, athleticism and agility. Rivers has just about everything a team looking for an offensive-minded shooting guard would like to see heading into the draft.

His long 6'4" frame makes him a good finisher around the basket. However, with his aggressive nature, Rivers may want to add a few pounds to his frame in order to remain durable for years to come. Yet at 200 pounds, Rivers still possesses good size.

Despite all of the basketball qualities in Rivers, the 19-year-old's game elicits some glaring holes.

Rivers has gained the reputation of a streaky shooter who has a tendency to force his shot even when struggling. This has in turn brought his shot selection into question.

The Duke product has also been considered selfish and unwilling to create shots for his teammates. With such an aggressive offensive nature, it is surprising to see that Rivers averaged just 2.1 assists per game in his freshman season. Rivers demanded double-teams on countless occasions but still appeared to take it upon himself to score rather than find an open teammate.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images also notes that Rivers is right-hand dominant and can show a lack of focus and discipline on the defensive end.

Player Overview: Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes entered Chapel Hill with about as much hype as the newest Jay-Z album and, though maybe not the prolific athlete fans assumed he would be, had a solid two seasons with the Tar Heels.

Many have suggested Barnes simply didn't live up to the billing that the No. 1 high school prospect carries with it. I say, if averaging 17.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his sophomore season is underachieving, then how good can this kid be? 

Barnes' decision to forgo the 2011 draft in favor of returning for a second season probably cost him a few slots in the draft, but it's nothing he'll lose sleep over.

Actually, he potentially could have been the No. 1 overall pick, but I digress.

It's hard to pinpoint when Barnes will hear his name called this year, but he's projected to be selected anywhere from No. 2 to No. 7 at this point.

Barnes has a very fluid offensive game. He's a great shooter from anywhere on the court, can finish well around the rim, has great dribbling skills and does it all efficiently.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 18:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts as he runs down court next to Jahenns Manigat #12 of the Creighton Bluejays in the first half during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Gre
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images also notes Barnes' solid defensive play and rebounding skills as a huge draw for NBA teams.

Barnes' struggles, on the other hand, can be found in his athletic ability. There's no denying Barnes is a good athlete, but he lacks the explosiveness associated with the typical All-Star NBA small forward.

The 6'8" forward also relies too heavily on his jump shot in situations where he should be more aggressive towards the hoop.

The Verdict: Harrison Barnes

It's tough to nail down which of the two has the greatest upside at the next level, as they're both still developing.

Rivers is obviously the younger of the two and will need to control his borderline cocky persona. Some time spent getting schooled in the NBA Summer League should have a sobering effect on the young gun.

Barnes' abilities were brought into question after his poor performance following the loss of UNC teammate and offensive facilitator Kendall Marshall in the NCAA tournament.

Barnes has since proven his abilities in the pre-draft combine and floored several scouts in attendance with his incredible speed and vertical leap.

When it comes down to it, Barnes will have the greater upside of the two, even though Rivers could potentially outscore Barnes in their rookie seasons. Barnes simply has more versatility both offensively and defensively. Not to mention his solid work ethic and character bring little question as to whether he'll be a successful NBA player or not.