Assessing the point guard play of Austin Rivers through three exhibition games
It is quite early to be evaluating a freshman but it is not often you get an early look at a top 5 recruit playing in structured games. Granted, these are only exhibition games but it was clear both teams were working their hardest all game in each of the three games Duke has played so far.
Without a true point guard, Duke will most likely rely on a point guard by committee, unless one players steps into the role in the first several games. One of those players who will get a chance to be a primary ball handler is freshman Austin Rivers. I wanted to take a look at how he did in three games in a few key areas for a point guard: Initiating the offense, good passes to scorers, not turning the ball over and penetrating the lane.
Initiating the offense
The first objective of a point guard is to initiate the offense. It is often a simple pass just to get the play in motion. The few times that Rivers did bring the ball down, he often wasted too much time dribbling aimlessly, instead of making the first pass to start the offense. Other times, he choose to go straight at his man and force a tough shot without even giving the offense a chance to run any action.
Rivers will learn how to initiate the offense and see the first pass that needs to be made to start the play or keep the offense moving. He didn’t do a great job of it in his first three games, as he seemed content to isolate his defender and try to beat him off the dribble time and time again. As we will see below, his ability to penetrate the lane and get to the rim is his biggest strength at the time. However, he needs to learn when to move the ball to his teammates instead of always taking a second to see if he can beat his defender.
Good passes to scorers
The second job of a point guard is to locate passes in places which gives his teammates the ability to score. This means delivering the ball where the post man is calling for it or to put it in the pocket of a jump shooter so he can catch and shoot without wasting much time.
I thought this was a strength of Rivers in their international tour. While he made a few sloppy passes, the majority of the time he showed the ability to put the ball in the right spot where his teammates could do the most with the ball. In the following clips, the play won’t always result in a basket but the key is the pass Rivers made to the shooter. He does a great job of distributing the ball and assisting his teammates in getting their shot.
Not turning the ball over
It is no surprise to me that Rivers looked shaky at times with the ball. This is to be expected of a freshman guard, especially in the pre-season. It is not something to be overly concerned about at this point but it cannot be ignored. Rivers had a tendency to over commit when he penetrated, which led to bad passes as he put himself in positions where he could not succeed.
As we will see below, Rivers showed he can do great thing when he penetrates to the rim. He needs to learn to pick his spots better and be more and be a bit more under control when he goes to the rim so he keeps command of the ball. As the old mantra goes, ‘be quick but don’t hurry’. Words to live by for Rivers when he drives to the rim.
Ability to penetrate the lane
The last key I want in a point guard is the ability to penetrate the lane. He doesn’t have to be a great jump shooter but he needs to be able to cut through the lane and finish at the rim or dump the ball off for a dunk. This seems to be one of Rivers’ biggest strengths. Although he can be a bit reckless at times, he can explode off a ball screen and easily get to the rim and finish.
Rivers rarely looked to dump the ball off when the help came, choosing instead to knife his way through the defense or shoot a floater over the help so he will need to recognize situations when it is appropriate to give the ball up because the defense has keyed in on Rivers. Again, this is not a cause for concern for a freshman but it is something to monitor as the season progresses.