Learning on the job is part of the culture in the NBA. Austin Rivers knows this very well because his father, Glen “Doc” Rivers, went through the same thing 30 years ago. But even though 19-year-old Austin has been groomed and prepped for life in the Association, it’s still a painful process — literally.
In his second game at the NBA Summer Pro League in Las Vegas, Austin Rivers took a beating against the Milwaukee Bucks. He hit the deck numerous times, slammed his left elbow on the floor, and took a shot to the knee that forced him to the bench for a few minutes. It’s the kind of physical game most first-year NBA players dread, a realization that this is a man’s game and the training wheels are off.
“Now is his time to grow. We’re putting the ball in his hands, putting the ball in the summer in his hands to see what he’s got,” Hornets assistant James Borrego told The Associated Press. Borrego, the Hornets’ head coach for their summer league team in Las Vegas, has Rivers playing point guard almost exclusively; a preview of what the Hornets are planning to do with the 10th overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, who played mostly shooting guard at Duke and Winter Park High School (Fla.).
“Hopefully Austin’s that guy that can take that point guard position and run with it,” Borrego said. “There’s some things he’s got to learn as you go, but I think we’re all confident he can get there.”
So far Rivers is struggling as he adjusts to his new role as an NBA point guard. He went 1-for-6 and scored just six points against the Bucks on Monday. In two games, he’s now 4-for-19 from the field. He was outplayed by fellow rookie Damian Lillard in his summer league debut on July 15, as Lillard scored 25 points and looked more comfortable.
But in fairness to Rivers, Lillard was playing his natural point guard position while Rivers is still finding his way as a playmaker. Rivers did show some flashes of brilliance, splitting double teams with some nifty dribbling and getting to the free throw line by relentlessly attacking the basket.
“He’s a natural scorer. As a point guard, he can make it work though,” Borrego said. “He’s got to get better and he will. He’s putting in the time. He’s teachable. He’s coachable. He understands the game, which you want in a point guard. His instinct is to score but we’re trying to slow him down, learn our offense, learn our pace, learn our rhythm and I think those are things he’s going to get.”
The Hornets don’t want to slow Rivers down too much, seeing how Oklahoma City succeeded in turning Russell Westbrook from shooting guard to point guard. According to Hornets general manager Dell Demps, the team has matched the Phoenix Suns’ contract offer to guard Eric Gordon, so the Hornets envision a Rivers-Gordon backcourt in New Orleans to go with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis in the frontcourt.
“We don’t want to put too much pressure on [Austin]. That’s what summer league is for. We’re here just evaluating,” Demps said. “It’s real early in the process. He only played one year in college. We’re going to take this slowly.”