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The 2012 NBA Draft: The Portland Trail Blazers and Austin Rivers

Potential superstar scorer or gravitational singularity?  Maybe a great value pick either way?  Weigh in below.  Photo: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
Potential superstar scorer or gravitational singularity? Maybe a great value pick either way? Weigh in below. Photo: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

If you've not been keeping current on our assessments of potential draftees for the Portland Trail Blazers, you can find them here:

Today we take a look at the least Duke-ish Dukie in recent memory: Austin Rivers

Austin Rivers

At 6'5" and a shade over 200 lbs, Duke Freshman Austin Rivers is slated to be a shooting guard at the next level, heavy on the shooting, light on the guarding.

What "Gloria" was to Laura Brannigan, scoring is to Rivers. He's like a pool shark, knocking down shots from impossible angles, always trying to run the table. He's the epitome of modern basketball theory. Everything he attempts is either a three-pointer or a layup. Why mess around with anything in between? His scoring is set up by his blinding first step and his incredible array of dribble moves. He's Mozart with the ball in his hands, making the whole court dance on a string. Many people talk about a quick release on jumpers. Rivers doesn't have that, but he has one of the quicker releases on his interior floaters that I've seen. In traffic it's like, "I wonder if he's going to go up with i....whoops! Too late. He scored!" He's got legit range as well. Summed up, his one-on-one scoring ability is unparalleled in this draft and he has the potential to step in among the best dribble-based scorers in the league.

Rivers also draws plenty of foul shots, owing to his quickness, ball-handling, and unpredictable-yet-effective shooting. He can work off of screens too. Both are mandatory for a guy his size at the professional level.

Take the ball out of his hands, though, and you're scratching your head figuring how this guy is going to fit in. He doesn't work well off the ball. He's not a catch-and-shoot threat at all. He's not much for motion when he ball isn't with him already. A guy who needs the ball in his hands that much had better be a point guard, and Rivers isn't. He's no threat to pass. Half the time it doesn't even occur to him. Basically he's that kid in school you hated to play have on your team. He's good, but once you've given him the ball you're not seeing it again. His common sense goes out the window once he senses a shot he can make and he thinks he can make anything.

Nor is Rivers going to round out your rotation in other areas. Rebounding? Not great. Defense? No. Banging is not his style, nor does he have the body for it. He's quick, but not big or strong. In short, your options are to give him the ball and let him operate or to keep him off the floor.

As far as developing, he needs to make two changes and could improve his utility with a third.

First, he'll need to add more bulk and strength. The lane is going to close quicker on him in the NBA and he's going to get hit harder too. Unless he plans to become a fancy-dribbling three-point specialist he needs to prepare his body for the physical toll.

While multiple commentators reference his odd shooting mechanics, he's plenty effective. But he'll probably need to do something about his three-point release. The farther out he goes on the floor the lower his natural release point gets, as he appears to make up some of the distance by reducing the angle. That's going to get his shot blocked in the NBA. He needs to add enough arm strength and form to keep his release high even from deep.

Finally, Rivers needs to channel his dad and find a little passing ability. Given recent history, this is like asking a fish to fly. But Rivers is a player and he's been around players his whole life. He's got to know what it takes to make it as a pro...that he's not going to be the only--maybe not even the best--scorer on the floor every night. One would hope some of that wisdom would take over and his obvious dedication to the game would allow him to expand his horizons.

As to whether the Blazers would like Rivers...he'd certainly be unique. He's not a bad risk with a mid-round pick either, even if you just forecast him as instant offense off the bench for a while. This team may need a dose of "me first" and "let's burn up the nets". If you have a choice between projected role players and a guy who could score 20, take the guy who could score 20, whatever his flaws. The Blazers could cover his defensive deficiencies, could cover the rebounding...they could even deal with him going one-on-everyone in halfcourt sets now and then. If he did round out his game, this guy could be a star. He's probably not superstar material but he could be as good as Monta Ellis...plenty of value for a lower lottery pick. The question is, could you win with Rivers? Assuming winning involves more than aggregated stats, the prospect is iffy. Unless he can learn to play nice with others, every shot he takes will be taken from someone else. If he's head and shoulders above every other scorer on your team, that's fine. But if he's head and shoulders above every other scorer on your team, you're also in trouble.

What do you think? How good of a value would Rivers be at #11? Would you be happy buying an extra pick or trading down to get him if you don't like him at that spot? How high is his ceiling? Will he round out his game? Weigh in below.

--Dave (