On February 8, 2012, millions were watching the biannual clash between storied rivals North Carolina and Duke. As per usual, both teams came into the game ranked amongst the top 10 in the nation, and the winner would more than likely clinch the regular season ACC title.
Down by two on the road, Duke inbounded with less than ten seconds left in the second half. As always, Duke had a number of weapons that they could turn to, but the ball wound up in the hands of then-Freshman, Austin Rivers. With his father, Doc, watching from the stands, Rivers drained a contested, step-back three at the buzzer to upset No. 5 UNC. It was a play that dominated the sports’ world for weeks afterwards, and ultimately guided the narrative of Rivers being a “clutch” player that led to his being drafted 10th overall by the New Orleans Hornets.
As a fan, the events of February 8, 2012 seem like they were yesterday. For Austin Rivers, it must feel like an eternity ago.
Looking at Austin Rivers’ statistics, it is not a stretch to suggest that he is having the worst rookie season (of somebody that actually played, *cough*Royce White*cough*) in NBA history. In fact, it might be harder to argue otherwise.
The downward spiral that has been Rivers’ rookie year started before the season even actually began. During the preseason, Rivers seriously sprained his ankle not once, but twice, over the course of one week. He still managed to make it onto the starting day lineup, although he struggled, going 1-for-9 from the field with three turnovers in 24 minutes. This persisted for the next few games, with many analysts willing to give Rivers a break based on his healing ankle. Unfortunately, his problems turned out to be much more severe.
To date, Rivers is shooting 37.2% from the floor, with an even sadder 32.6% from deep. What’s more, he is only converting 54.6% of his shots from the free throw line, a number on par with a defensive-minded Center, not a Shooting Guard. To put this in perspective, there has never been a rookie in the history of the game to shoot worse while averaging over 20 minutes per game.
Hornets fans and Duke alumni might want to look away, because it doesn’t get better from there.
For the season, Austin Rivers is averaging a PER of 5.9. Yes, single-digits. This, too, is an all-time worst for a rookie dating back to 1946. He is also posting an abysmal offensive rating of 89 with a porous defensive rating of 114. Combined, these are also the worst recorded statistics for a contributing rookie. All of this results in a win share of -1.2 (meaning he has contributed to 1.2 loses), which ranks fourth worst amongst rookies that have played more than 40 games while averaging at least 20 minutes per.
All of this being said, there was a glimmer of hope in Rivers’ otherwise nightmarish season. In the month of February, he began shooting a more respectable 44.6% from the floor (he also shot 46.2% from three, but only had 13 attempts). It was a small step forward in a season filled with gigantic leaps back. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be his year, as on March 7, Rivers broke his hand in a collision with teammate Greivis Vasquez, spelling the end of his season.
While it’s far too soon to put the nail in Austin Rivers’ career, his rookie season did little to inspire confidence in his potential. He was a player whose stock was built around his shooting and ever-elusive intangibles, but as we have seen so many times in the past, these skills are often the hardest to translate to the pro game. Now, with New Orleans poised to have another top 10 draft pick and Eric Gordon’s future as unclear as ever, it is very possible we see them draft yet another two-guard. Will Rivers have the ability and confidence to win the right to substantial minutes next season? For now, it seems unlikely.