New Orleans Hornets: What If the Austin Rivers Experiment Fails?

Louis GertlerContributor IIAugust 16, 2012

June 29, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets first round selection Austin Rivers prepares for a photo shoot at the New Orleans Arena.   Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

It is certainly not unusual to hear about a NBA team "gambling" on a certain player when it selects him in the draft or signs him in free agency.

There are different types of player gambles, however.

There are gambles where, if the player doesn't work out, it may pose a minor setback for the team, but where it's not damaging to the team's overall prospects.

Then, there are gambles that are equivalent to an "all in" bet at the poker table. When, if the player disappoints, it could set the franchise back for years.

Unquestionably, the Hornets took a gamble when they selected Austin Rivers with the 10th pick in the draft.

The Hornets are betting that they can convert Rivers, a natural 2-guard and scorer, into an attacking point guard who can also distribute the ball to his teammates. And that he can productively coexist on the court with current shooting guard Eric Gordon.

The question is, what will be the fallout if this gamble fails?

For example, what if Rivers struggles terribly at point guard, or plays like the ball-hogging glory hound that some have characterized him to be?

Or what if Rivers and Gordon have zero chemistry on the court and are constantly getting into each others way offensively?

If the worst happens, what effect would this have on the future of the franchise?

In order to answer this question, we must first look at the Hornets roster.

As the team is currently constituted there is only one point guard with any NBA experience—Greivis Vasquez. Although Vasquez improved greatly during the course of last season, he is still—at best—a solid back-up.

If Vasquez is forced to start because Rivers can't handle the point, the Hornets will have to rely on recently signed journeyman guard Brian Roberts—whose only professional experience has been in a German league—as a primary back-up.

To say that the position would be thin is a gross understatement.

As for Rivers, the Hornets would then be forced to use him as an "instant offense" sixth man off the bench.

Rivers can certainly score and would be useful in that capacity. It is always a luxury to be able to bring a big scoring threat off the bench, like the Mavericks had for years with Jason Terry.

The problem is that, in this scenario, Rivers would essentially become "Eric Gordon-lite"—a less experienced and less defensively capable version of Gordon. And Gordon's concerns after the draft about River's similarity to him would be realized.

Bottom line—the Hornets would be stuck with two analogous players at the shooting guard position, while the point guard position would be left in shambles.

Would this cripple the franchise?

Not necessarily, but it certainly would put the Hornets behind the eight ball and in desperate need of a point guard for the future.

And it would mean that the Hornets essentially wasted the 10th pick on Rivers when they could have drafted a a less risky player to fit one of the team's dire needs at center and point guard.

So, a lot rides on Rivers becoming a capable point guard this year and being able to work well with Gordon.

If the Rivers experiment works, the Hornets will have a powerful one-two punch at the guard position that could impact the NBA for years to come.

But if it fails, the rebuilding process will be slowed considerably—something a small-market team like the Hornets can't afford to happen.