Despite criticisms, Austin Rivers has superstar qualities

For his entire life Austin Rivers has been under the microscope.

From “Doc’s Kid” to nation’s top high school prospect to leading scorer at arguably the most storied basketball program in the country, Rivers is no stranger to the spotlight.

He’s been faced with enormous expectations since he was a young lad, and while praise has come in bunches, scrutiny has been just as present. “He’s too arrogant, he shoots too much, he’s not a team guy,” the critics have been saying since he bounced a ball in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Oftentimes the critics are right. Rivers’ shot selection can be almost laughable at times. It’s not hard to see how he can come off as selfish and arrogant as he rarely defers to his teammates.

But as difficult as it is to reward qualities like that from a day-to-day life perspective, in the game of basketball it’s that attitude and swagger that turns average NBA talent into superstars. It’s the confidence to think every shot is going in, the yearning to want the ball in your hands with the game on the line that you simply can’t teach.

Rivers has that inherent “It Factor,” and that quality alone could make him a steal for whatever team takes a chance on him. Whether it was spending time with Dominique Wilkins when his dad played for the Hawks, hanging with Patrick Ewing when Doc was with the Knicks or being around David Robinson when the Celtics’ head coach was in San Antonio, Rivers has seen excellence at the highest level.

He’s watched Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo and their work ethic and desire to be great. He’s been blessed with a window into what it takes to be great in the NBA, which is something no one in this draft class can say.

“It gives him a big advantage because nothing’s going to surprise him,” said Duke associate head coach Chris Collins, son of Sixers head coach Doug Collins. “When you’ve been around those caliber players your whole life, you understand what greatness is.”

Because of Rivers’ experiences, he understands that he won’t be great unless he carries himself the way he does. He won’t make game-winning shots if he doesn’t clear out against Tyler Zeller and pull up for three to stun the entire basketball nation.

“For him in order to be good he has to be confident in his ability, he has to be tough, he has to have a swagger on the court,” Collins said.

Rivers clearly has that confidence and swagger, along with the work ethic to go with it. Collins called him a “gym rat in every sense of the word.” Rivers is in the gym every night after practice getting shots up, according to Collins. He’s constantly working on his weaknesses, bettering his body, and working to be elite.

“He has a strong desire to be a great player. His life is basketball,” Collins said. “He believes that this is what he’s meant to do. I think that’s why he’s a great big-game player. He’s not afraid of taking big shots. He succeeds most of the time because he’s got an amazing will to succeed.”

Despite all of these qualities that are so tough to come by, Rivers is still criticized. Outsiders believe the intense, overly confident kid they see on the court is the same kid walking around Duke’s campus in street clothes. Collins says that couldn’t be more inaccurate.

“Off the court Austin is a very fun-loving kid. He’s fun to be around, he’s funny, he likes to be with the guys,” Collins said. “Sometimes you get a misconception of who he is based on what you see of him as a competitor. I don’t think that could be further from the case. When you talk to him he’s very engaging, he’s fun to be around. He holds that persona on the court because that’s what he has to do to become great.”

Whether or not Rivers becomes great remains to be seen, but if he is around when the Phoenix Suns pick with the 13th selection it will be difficult to pass on him. In addition to his persona he can flat-out fill it up. He’s lightning quick, has NBA range, and can create his own shot better than anyone in the draft — all things the Suns desperately need.

With little to no star power and Steve Nash getting older and possibly leaving the Valley, the Suns need a new face of the franchise. There are few players expected to be available at No. 13 with the makeup and skill-set to potentially carry the title of “face of the franchise.”

All off-balance threes, bad body language and missed open shooters aside, Rivers is one of them.

Tags: Austin Rivers Draft

  • Vincent

    I see a whole lot of Barbosa in his funky jumpshot.

  • Scott

    I think Rivers plays a lot like Curry, but with a significant downside.

    His negatives are substantial. My take is that Rivers WANTS to go to a young, bottom feeding team (Raps, Cavs, etc.) because he wants to be the man, he wants to be the hero, he wants to have the ball in his hands the whole time. He doesn’t want to go to a more mature, established team like Phoenix, where he’s just a rookie.

    Contrary to the write-up above, I think Rivers is truly selfish, self-absorbed, overconfident, and he doesn’t want to do the real hard work required to be part of a winning team, which is: make your teammates better.

    Rivers is like the Pietrus of about four years ago, but without the defense.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    So the one thing that sticks out for me, and the reason why I like guys like Waiters and Lamb and Ross better for the Suns is that Rivers is NOT a catch and shoot guy in any sort or way.

    For all of the tools he does currently have, he doesn’t have any of that. He doesn’t have any type of mid-range shot either, and if you go back through the D’antoni / Gentry years it is the one thing that the 2-guard must have. From Joe Johnson through Barbosa through Richardson through Dudley.

    The ball is coming. You have to be able to catch, aim, and bury it from wherever you are.

    Like I’ve said before, if all the other options are gone and he’s sitting there, (Unless PJ3 is still around), then I’m not “mad” about the suns picking him. I don’t think he is the best fit though.

  • The Barnes

    I wont be annoyed if we take rivers, but I will be annoyed if someone like Perry Jones drops to us (or from some mocks even Drummond) and we dont take them because of rivers. We need the best player available, you cant draft on ‘needs’ when you dont even know what your rosters gonna look like….nash, brown, hill, brooks then the FA we are suopposedly targeting like Gee could all be on the roster, or they could not. GET THE BEST GUY AVAILABLE.

  • Matt

    I absolutely love Austin Rivers. I think he’ll be the best fit with us outside of Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson, and Michael Kidd Gilchrist. Notice how all of those guys are top 5 picks. Player development is key is drafting any rookie, but Rivers’ downfalls are less of an issue than let’s say that of Terrence Jones or PJIII. Both of those guys had a tendency to disappear and becoming passive on both ends of the floor, and both of them lack leadership. Now Rivers’ isn’t exactly a leader him self but at least with him we get a guy that will give us 15 PPG, works hard, plays hard and has the potential to be the face of the franchise. He takes bad shots? Sure, but so does Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, and every other superstar in the league, and it’s a good thing that he has that confidence and swagger.

  • Matt

    And mind you, if Steve leaves we have no leader. If Grant returns he’ll be the best leadership we got, so if we can get a guy like Rivers’ to come in and take control…Hell we need it.

  • Matt

    @Mike
    Hey Mike, any idea what’s going on with the Aaron Brooks situation? Are we gonna try to keep him or get something for him? Honestly he would be such a bad fit with us at this point, he’s 27, he’s a high volume low percentage shooter, he’s undersized and is worse of an defensive liability than Steve. Any thoughts on that?

  • Charles

    Rivers is still a kid, learning the game. His exposure to NBA professionals will give him extra motivation to play the game the right way; however, his individual and overall result will stem from his maturity and true love to win at the game that includes his teammates where ever he is signed to a contract.

    Thus far, he hasn’t shown me much, and I seriously doubt his improvement if he doesn’t personally grow as an individual that is willing to give more of himself all round.