By Chris Le
Duke just got a whole lot better and that much more hated, and they were pretty goddamn good and hated to begin with. Austin Rivers, senior shooting guard from Winter Park, Fl., has verbally committed to Duke.
Trust me, this is a big deal.
I’m going to the printers and saying Rivers is the best high school scorer of the last half-decade and will potentially be the most prolific scorer in the NCAAs since Stephen Curry and possibly, the biggest freshman threat since … (seriously, brace yourself!!) … Kevin Durant.
I’ve seen Rivers play about a dozen times, and in the world of armchair analysis—a world about as useless as Adam Morrison, and one in which I unabashedly indulge—a dozen times is enough for a blogger to project a 17-year-old’s collegiate and professional career. God, I love blogs.
Here’s a taste of what Rivers has to offer:
From what I’ve seen, Rivers has no glaring weakness on offense. He’s fundamentally sound—his shooting form (body squared, ball above head, right arm at 90 degrees) is sound and consistent, which lends to his NBA-plus range. He has phenomenal body control and awareness; just watch his step-back, pop-up threes, two of the most difficult maneuvers in basketball. (Seriously, try it out. Dribble down the court at a full sprint, stop on a dime, square your body and pull up for a 23-footer, all in about 0.869 seconds. You’re guaranteed to: a.) lose the dribble, b.) tweak an ankle, or c.) fall on your ass. Rivers executes it consistently, to the point where it’s a viable weapon. It’s a tremendous display of body manipulation by a teenager who has no business with that much control of his own limbs.) He can drive, usually prefaced by a sick cross over (see: Rivers making John Wall look foolish), and shows shiftiness at the rim. Pay particular attention to Rivers’ floater. It’s an all but extinct shot in high school, except with short, unathletic white kids who play like girls. But Rivers pulls off the floater, which requires timing and a delicate touch, with confidence and a languid manliness. It’s an all-star caliber shot and a testament to his overall feel for the game. I can’t help but be impressed with how well-groomed he is. And keep in mind this is before he’s played as a senior in high school. He’s everything you’d expect from the son of Doc Rivers.
(Side note: A question with an obvious answer: Why offer Rivers a scholarship? Hear me out here. Why offer anyone that rich anything free? Rivers’ dad is an NBA coach, whose bed is no doubt cushioned with the many dollars that accompany such a job, and Austin has future millions of his own to enjoy once he becomes the sickest baller in the league. In summation: He’s rich and will be for a long time. So why not just offer him admission into the school and a spot on the team? I first thought about this question when USC offered a full ride to Romeo Miller—aka Lil Romeo, aka Master P’s son, aka the kid who had his own lakeside mansion and tricked out Benz before he was 13, because, you know, why the hell not? We got money to blow! Of course, it was a package deal; USC wanted uber-recruit DeMar DeRozan, who, at the time, was Lil Romeo’s best friend. But then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if a wealthy recruit declined scholarship and entered as a walk on? That way the school could offer the open scholarship—of which sports programs have a limited number—to another blue chip prospect, thus strengthening the team’s potential. It would be the college equivalent of Dwyane Wade magnanimously taking less money (cue eye rolling) to create a super team with LeBron and Chris Bosh.
But, as I already admitted, this is a stupid proposition. Why would anyone—even a billionaire—volunteer to pay $40,000 a year on basketball training, uh, I mean, an education, when it’s offered for free? What was I thinking?)
Back to Rivers. Here’s the gist: he can score whenever he wants, wherever he wants. But therein lies what may be his only offensive weakness. He possesses the requisite lack of consciousness in a dominant scorer—the willingness to shoot over double-coverage, the boldness to take the last shot. He’s confident, which I love. But he’s never seen a shot he didn’t think he could make, especially in high school. He’ll shoot when the situation calls for a simple drive or pass. He’ll launch a quick three on a fast break before initiating the offense. And that assurance, that latent hubris and greed could be his eventual undoing. It’s a little too much Gilbert Arenas-syndrome for my liking. Granted, it’s not quite a red flag. Not yet. But he needs to work on shot selection. Aaaaand if I were picking nits, he could further develop his left-hand finishes. But everything else, Rivers has down—at an NBA level.
And here’s a scary thought: This year, Duke introduces freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who is being touted as the next Chris Paul. With the ever-looming probability that the NBA will be locked out next year, many stud freshmen who would otherwise enter the draft will stay for their sophomore years. That means Irving and Rivers might share a backcourt in 2011. Yikes.
Here’s what to expect from Kyrie Irving:
Qualifier: Austin Rivers will be the next Stephen Curry … unless Seth Curry, Stephen Curry’s younger brother, is the next Stephen Curry. (Read that sentence again.) And Seth Curry is a Dukie; he transferred to Durham last year. So, not only will Duke have Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers, they’ll also have Seth Curry, the highest-scoring freshman in 2009. Game. Over.