After losing to Lehigh in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament, Duke freshman Austin Rivers took some time to consider his future as a college basketball player. While his team's postseason performance had been disappointing, there was no denying Rivers had enjoyed a successful first year in Durham. Rivers put up gaudy numbers against some of the best teams in the country during the regular season as he finished with averages of 15.5 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game.
The son of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is a lock to be a mid-first round draft pick and could even sneak into the lottery by some estimates. ESPN.com's Chad Ford ranks Rivers as the 14th overall prospect among this year's talent pool, while DraftExpress.com has him going 16th in their latest mock draft. What will make Rivers, 20 in August, a valuable commodity going forward is his strong shooting ability mixed with a rare confidence that cannot be taught in the NBA.
For Ford, Rivers' strengths include his ball-handling skills, a devastating crossover and a deep-range jump shot that help fuel what Ford describes as a "killer instinct" on the court. During his time at Duke, this intangible could best be seen when the Blue Devils beat the fifth-ranked Tar Heels in Chapel Hill thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer by Rivers. The victory ended UNC's 31-game home winning streak, which marked a school record.
There are many reasons why Rivers isn't projected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft and for Ford, it starts with the fact that he isn't a world-class athlete. Seemingly modeling his game after a much more athletically-gifted Kobe Bryant, Rivers attempts to do things on the court that his 6-foot-4, 203 pound body simply cannot achieve on a consistent basis. While his frame filled out over the course of the season at Duke, Rivers would stand to benefit from adding lean mass to make him more of a physical presence on the court.
Defensively, Ford says Rivers takes too many risks and may have let his attitude affect his effort at times, a sentiment shared by Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress.com, who describes Rivers' energy level as inconsistent. While some of Rivers' defensive shortcomings may stem from the heavy workload he was given on the offensive side of things, he will have to find a balance between being passive and overaggressive while covering opposing players in the NBA.
It's difficult to gauge how Rivers' career will unfold given his youth and lack of extensive collegiate seasoning. He will be selected anywhere from 10th to 20th in the upcoming draft with teams such as the Cavs, Rockets and Blazers most likely to give him a look. Rivers has expressed his desire to play for his father in Boston, but some critics wonder if that would be an unnecessary recipe for disaster for the Celtics with the team's roster facing a potential overhaul this offseason.