Many have already written off Austin Rivers, the No. 10 pick in the 2012 draft whose rookie year was borderline disastrous. But have patience—there's still hope.
In 2012-13, he averaged just 6.2 points in 23 minutes and shot 37 percent from the floor.
It didn't take long to learn that he had no future as a point guard and that scoring wouldn't come as easily as it did for him as a student athlete.
To bounce back as a sophomore, Rivers will have to make some significant adjustments and improvements in three specific areas of the game.
1. Shot Selection
Rivers' shot selection was brutal at times last year. He forced himself into a number of difficult attempts and struggled to consistently make the ones in his wheelhouse.
For a better year, he will need to demonstrate a cleaner, more refined shot selection.
Find the Open Space
One of Rivers' most glowing strengths is his lightning-quick first step. And because of it, he's a threat to make a play whenever he has the ball.
He has the ability to shake defenders off the dribble and break down a perimeter. As a rookie, getting into the lane wasn't his problem. It was executing once he got there.
At 6'4'', 200 pounds and without that above-the-rim explosiveness, he is going to struggle finishing at the rim. Last season, he only converted 36 percent of shots at the rim on the left side and 44 percent on the right, according to Vorped.com.
It's going to be tough for Rivers to score in traffic, given his physical tools.
Instead, he should be looking to find the open space and avoid traffic as much as possible. Challenging rim protectors inside isn't a battle he's going to win.
He needs to continue developing his mid-range game—stop-and-pop jumpers, floaters and runners—but most of all, he has to develop recognition.
Rivers has the talent to make all those mid-range shots. But he has to build a better sense for which shot to use and when to take it.
Below, he looks to beat his man off the bounce but doesn't have a plan once he does. He shows poor recognition of where the help is and ultimately drives into awaiting traffic.
Rather than gathering and pulling it out, he attempts a difficult shot over three defenders, including a 7'1'' Marc Gasol who's standing right in his grill.
Throughout the season, Rivers wasn't efficient at all scoring in the lane. He shot just 16-of-45 (35 percent) on attempts between the foul line and restricted area, via Vorped.
This season, he should focus more on stopping to gather and shoot off two feet. These are higher percentage shots that will give him the chance to pull it back.
Here's an example of Rivers making the right play off the dribble drive.
With the interior defenders playing too far under the rim, he recognizes the open space in the middle of the lane. He uses his handle and quickness to beat his man and get right into the paint.
Instead of looking to attack the rim protectors, he slows down, sets both feet and takes a high-percentage floater.
For Rivers to improve on his 37 percent field-goal shooting, he'll have to adjust his shot selection inside the arc.
2. Perimeter Game
Rivers didn't shoot the ball particularly well last season. And there's just no way he can get to the next level unless his jumper becomes a more reliable weapon.
Scoring in crowded areas is going to be a challenge throughout his career. He'll have to take advantage of his open looks on the perimeter, because driving into the paint won't result in many easy buckets.
He was awful in the mid-range last year, knocking down only 6-of-25 shots from the left side of the key (inside the arc) and 16-of-39 from the right side.
He'll also need to extend his range, after making only 32 percent of his three-point attempts.
As an off-guard, he will need to be a threatening spot-up shooter. He has to learn to play when the ball isn't in his hands, which means scoring without needing to dribble.
If Rivers wants to maximize his scoring opportunities, he'll have to convert the looks he's getting from outside the paint.
3. Playing Within the Flow of the Offense
Rivers was born confident. It has made him such a dangerous scorer when he finds that zone.
But now he has to adapt to a supporting role after being featured his entire life. And that takes a mental and fundamental adjustment.
He has to maintain that confidence as a scorer yet do so with poise. The Pelicans can't afford for him to waste possessions on bad shots as the third guy off the bench.
He has to learn how to play within the flow of the offense—scoring without overdribbling and finishing off the ball.
One-on-one only works if it results in a high-percentage look. And too many times Rivers danced with the ball, only to take a challenged, off-balance shot.
He has the talent to be an asset in this league as a scoring playmaker and breakdown guard. If he can improve his shot selection and perimeter game and learn to play within the offense, he could make a significant leap forward this year.
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