6-4, 180, G
Winter Park (Fla.) High
Class of 2011
Few players have emerged with as much seasoning as Austin Rivers. He was touted nationally as a high school freshman, based not only on his prodigious talent and father Doc Rivers's fame but also his older brother, Jeremiah, and the recruitment that led him to Georgetown and then Indiana.
And Austin's reputation quickly expanded. He's by far more touted than Jeremiah and has some scouts projecting him as a superior NBA prospect to even Doc, who played 13 seasons for a variety of strong teams in the league.
Considering how early he was introduced to the national scene, his father's status as an ex-NBA'er and current coach of the Boston Celtics, the decommitment from Florida to a powerhouse finalist list of Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, and with so many of the top 2011 prospects already committed, it undoubtedly makes this the most high profile recruitment of the fall.
The easiest and simplest way to describe Rivers is as follows: he's the best perimeter scorer in high school basketball. He possesses an unparalleled ability to create offense for himself in one-on-one situations, forcing even AAU teams — which generally don't employ much in the way of organized defensive strategy — to alter personnel combinations and double-team him.
What I consider the most unique aspect of Austin's game is his use of fakes. He's extremely slippery with his shoulders, hips and feet, and his lunges and shimmies sometimes cause defenders to tumble in a comically confused heap. That slipperiness also enables him to wriggle between defenders and launch mid-range jumpers at odd angles over shotblockers.
Of course, none of that would be worth as much without the fear he brings to the opposition due his outside shot. He catches fire from deep like no other player in his class, confidently stroking jump shots with a very quick release and needing almost no daylight to get a clean look. He has at times scorched teams and ended contests early, and he plays with a determined, highly competitive mentality that always has impressed coaches and scouts.
Though not a pure point guard, Rivers handles well enough to play the position and is an alert passer. He's highly effective at drive-and-kick and generally understands defensive movement and where the gaps will be when looking for an open teammate.
His playing style also excites fans. Guys who can jump out of the gym earn the most admirers, but long-range assassins hold second place. Because Rivers stares down defenders and shoots in their faces from as far as 23 feet, people line up to watch him play.
Austin also embraces criticism more readily than most of his peers. He has sat down behind the scenes with Nike brass and asked for honest evaluations of his game. It's likely that his father's experience in the cutthroat world of NBA basketball has informed his own approach to self-assessment. And yet, he remains the embodiment of confidence on the court.
Rivers' self-belief and alpha dog playing style have led to the sharpest critiques: his game has at times been inefficient. There have been occasions during his career when he has shot his team out of the game. Meanwhile, in the past some teammates have struggled with his domination of the ball. His shot selection is an area he must fine-tune in order to maximize his effectiveness at the advanced levels of the sport.
The other major criticism of Austin's game is that he's more one-dimensional than most elite prospects. He hasn't yet shown himself to be a consistent defender or rebounder and, as mentioned, isn't a natural playmaker.
Among scouts, the most contentious issue is his athleticism. Some believe that he boasts a major league first step, while my position is that he relies upon deception more than raw quickness. Further, he isn't a great leaper on drives to the hoop -- he does elevate well on lobs and in other situations when he can gather and explode -- and can be forced into very difficult attempts at close range.
Looking at the bigger picture, some other big-time volume shooters have struggled in recent years making the transition to superior competition. Kenny Boynton was a similarly heralded prep scorer in the Class of 2009, and last season at Florida he led the Gators in scoring (14.0 ppg) but shot just 38 percent from the field and only 29 percent from behind the arc -- with more than half his field goals attempts being three-pointers -- averaging fewer than three assists per game despite playing 33 minutes per contest.
For the record, I don't buy the comparison between Rivers and Boynton past a limited extent. Austin is taller and rangier, has a much better driving game and is the superior passer. I do think it's worth mentioning players such as Boynton, however, to illustrate how high volume high school shooters/scorers can experience a performance falloff if they don't tighten their shot selection and expand their overall skill set.
It must be noted here, too, that to my knowledge I'm the only national scout who doesn't rank Rivers among the national top five. An evaluation written by any number of others would be glowing without as many caveats.
And I understand that perspective. Rivers undoubtedly is a world class scorer, and UNC fans understand all too well after last season that a shortage of offense cripples the team. Even if Austin doesn't shoot a great percentage, the attention he'll command as a perimeter threat will enable teammates to unleash their own offense more easily.
Further, because he's been raised in the game and has a very clear perspective on his long-term goals, he understands the importance of coaching and how to address areas in need of improvement. It's difficult to expect a teenager to round out his game when he's so dominant playing the way he does now. There's no reason to think he'll fail to improve -- and that's assuming he struggles in the first place.
Rivers will be a tremendous pickup for whichever school lands him. From UNC's vantage point, his presence on the roster would further bolster the recent trend toward recruiting dominant scoring personalities. Harrison Barnes, P.J. Hairston and top junior priority Shabazz Muhammad also fit into this category, and Rivers ranks among them in ability and competitiveness.
Rob Harrington provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. He's the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly, writes a freelance column for USAToday.com and is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player.