The Evolution of Austin Rivers

The Duke basketball program is used to bringing in highly touted freshmen. In any given year, odds are that Duke has landed at least one of the top five high school players in the nation. The Blue Devils have been represented in every single McDonald’s High School All-American game since 1993. Last season, super-freshman Kyrie Irving needed only 11 games to take the NCAA by storm and earn the #1 overall pick in the draft. But although he’s stepping directly into the shadows of Irving, I think we all can agree that there hasn’t been more hype for a Duke freshman than for Austin Rivers.

Rivers’ story is already well known. The Winter Park, Fl. native is the son of former NBA guard and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Doc spent the first nine of his fourteen NBA seasons as a player with the Atlanta Hawks (he also played for Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs.) Living up to a father who played in the NBA is no easy task (and not an uncommon one in the Duke program, just ask Seth Curry, Gerald Henderson or Chris Collins). But being the son of a former NBA player and one of the top coaching minds in basketball means much more than that. Not only do you have to be physically gifted, you’re expected to have excellent basketball instincts.

Rivers was on display from the beginning in the Friendship Games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every fall at Duke is special thanks to the arrival of 1700 new Cameron Crazies, but more importantly it means the arrival of a handful of new campus “gods”: the freshman basketball players. As one of the most heavily hyped freshmen in the country, I can assure you that it didn’t take very long for Rivers to attain celebrity status on campus. Not only had we heard our favorite college basketball analysts raving about this kid and seen endless highlight reels of him on YouTube (my personal favorite being this one of him crossing up 2010 NBA #1 overall pick John Wall), but we were able to catch a glimpse of him playing with the rest of his Blue Devil teammates at the Friendship Games in China and the UAE over the summer. When the season finally started, however, the “Austin Rivers legend” and the 18 year-0ld player were not exactly identical.

Our first glimpse of Rivers at Cameron was at Duke’s annual Countdown to Craziness. Though the general excitement surrounding the event was the kick-off to this team’s run toward a fifth national championship, there wasn’t a soul on campus that didn’t walk into Cameron that day wondering what this kid could really do. Austin was well received by the Duke crowd- as the first player introduced, he received the loudest ovation of the entire evening. Rivers came out on fire, knocking down shots from all over the floor as his White team jumped out to a double-digit lead by halftime. In the second half, the wheels started to fall off a bit. Rivers’ shots were not falling and he became visibly frustrated, affecting his play on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, the Blue team led by veterans Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins came storming back and eventually took home the victory.

Another month of hard work and fine tuning went by, and the Blue Devils were finally ready to start their 2011 season. Even in just 11 games this year, you can examine Rivers’ season in three distinct phases. Here’s a look at Rivers’ performances to date, game by game.

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Rivers' worst performance of the season was against Michigan State (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

As you can plainly see, the first few games of the year for Austin Rivers didn’t go so hot. In fact, he looked downright out of sync with the rest of the Duke team. Part of Rivers’ struggles in the opening games of the season resulted from increased pressure for him to step into his team’s vacant role of point guard. When Austin was bringing up the ball more often, he felt more pressure to create and facilitate the offense. This combined with a slightly naïve sense of invincibility left over from his high school playing days resulted in a lot of forced shots and turnovers, and the Duke offense struggled.

Rivers earned his chances at the rim when he was the centerpiece of the offense (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Following a dreadful performance at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, Rivers finally started to slow down and trust in his teammates. In turn, he allowed other players to set him up for open looks and made sure not to waste his opportunities. The point guard responsibilities shifting toward Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton only made matters easier for Rivers, who was able to roam the perimeter in search of open threes when he was off the ball and split double teams to drive down the lane when he was on the ball. However, Rivers’ transformation into the offensive force that he now is was not complete. There were still moments where he would revert back to his old bad habits and force a bad shot or turn the ball over. This second phase of his season was still extremely important, as Duke was able to get quality wins over difficult opponents like Michigan and Kansas. Duke’s drubbing at Ohio State marked the last game of this phase. Rivers put forth one of his better offensive outputs of the season, netting a career-high 22 points while pulling off some dazzling drives.

A more patient Austin Rivers has blended into the Duke offense splendidly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The third phase of Austin’s season was an intriguing one. Rivers stepped back from his role as the team’s primary scorer and once again the Blue Devils scored by committee. However, this is when he began to play his best basketball of the year. It seemed as though the less Rivers had to do, the more he could do. In Duke’s past three games, Rivers hasn’t had to take as many shots, but has converted as a higher percentage and has not stuck out as an individual entity wearing a Duke jersey, but rather a contributing member of Duke’s fluid offensive set. This is a role he has thrived in- his scoring has not dropped whatsoever and he is contributing more to the team. I’ve watched every single Duke basketball game this year and wrote about most of them, and I’ll still contend that the Austin Rivers moment that got me the most excited had nothing to do with a steal, dunk, or 3-pointer, but rather when I got home from the Colorado State game on December 7, checked a box score and realized he scored a beautifully quiet and efficient 17 points, and then rewatched the game and witnessed how incredibly he flowed within the offense for the first time all year.

Our mission at Crazie-Talk is to bring you all aspects of Duke basketball: the good, the bad, and the Crazie. Ironically, that is exactly the way to sum up Austin Rivers’ young freshman season–the first part was bad, in the second part he became the focus of the offense and went a bit Crazie (not necessarily in a good way), and the third part has been very, very good. Let’s take a look at Austin’s averages from his three phases of this season, “The Bad” being the year’s first three games, “The Crazie” being from Davidson to Ohio State, and “The Good” being Duke’s past three games.
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So which of these would you rather have? Obviously we’re getting rid of Austin at the beginning of the year where he wasn’t playing well overall, but I’d rather have the Rivers that plays fewer minutes and shoots less, while making more, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the offense. It sounds almost like a no-brainer.

Just like last season, the Blue Devils enter the ACC regular season headlined by a stud freshman as their leading scorer. Unlike last season, this year’s stud freshman is not sidelined by an injury that will cost him 20 or so games. Just like any first-year player, the ACC  season will be another transition for Austin Rivers, so don’t go jumping off the bandwagon if he has a tough game or two, especially as he gets accustomed to the intensity of ACC road tests. But over the course of this young season, we have learned a lot about who Austin Rivers really is–he is developing, he is learning quickly. He has become an integral member of this offense and he is earning the hype. At this point in his freshman year, Rivers is nowhere near the “finished product” that Kyrie Irving was in December, but he is improving at a scary pace. And we get to watch. We see these glimpses of greatness that a year ago were only reserved for our computer screens on YouTube, as game by game the greatness begins to take over.

It will be something special to witness.

Au Revoir, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving has announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and forego his final three years of eligibility at Duke.

 

Kyrie's last game against Arizona was one of his best in a Duke uniform. (courtesy of BluePlanetShots.com)

Kyrie leaves behind a difficult-to-digest legacy, as he only competed in 11 of Duke’s games this season. This writer, having been abroad in the fall semester, never got to see Kyrie play in Cameron, or in a live game at all. Although it’s incredibly disappointing to see him go, we cannot blame Kyrie for chasing his dream of playing professional basketball. He is still a Blue Devil, and always will be.

We wish him a great and healthy career wherever he ends up playing, and we hope he comes back to Durham to cheer on his team, as he did throughout his difficult injury.

UPDATE: Kyrie talks about his decision in this video from GoDuke.com:

Enjoy these highlights from Kyrie’s first huge performance on a national stage–31 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against Michigan State.

And then maybe this video on Duke’s upset of UNLV in 1991 will help ease your aching spirits. Yes, it was an upset, Seth Davis.

 

Section 17: Toppled by the Storm

The jump ball was one of the few competitive moments of the loss to St. John's. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Well, that was eye-opening.

In Duke’s first trip to the tri-state area this season, in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, the team was freakishly robbed of Kyrie Irving. Sunday in New York’s Madison Square Garden, up against a hungry St. John’s team and its rabid crowd, the Blue Devils were relieved of something else—their dignity.

Anyone watching the game—one of the few matchups on Sunday after Saturday’s packed slate— saw the Johnnies thoroughly “undress” Duke (to use the phrase of commentator Verne Lundquist). The sublime Clark Kellogg, who called most of Duke’s games in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, was thoroughly impressed  by the offensive and defensive efficiency of a Red Storm team that was coming off a blowout loss at Georgetown four days ago. The college basketball Twitterati—including our team of tweeters—was stunned by Duke’s lethargy. How did the ACC’s best get housed by the Big East’s eleventh ranked squad?

Much was exposed about the post-Irving Blue Devils. Here are some of my observations from a day of hair-pulling and disbelief.

  • Nolan and Kyle are not enough to win against non-ACC opponents. Our guard depth of Curry, Dawkins and Thornton was overshadowed by the gritty defense and physicality of the more experienced, if less talented, St. John’s perimeter rotation. The balance of the Red Storm attack (5 players in double figures) had its counterpoint in the Blue Devils: Nolan and Kyle had 17 of our 26 field goals, and many of the other ones were forgettable.
  • If post play continues to be non-existent, we are bound for more tight games if our outside shooting is cold. I have this dance I do now called “The Plumlee Lament” where I shake my fists, flail my legs and knock over any drinks placed nearby. Miles and Mason have yet to demonstrate a go-to post move, and combined for just 6 points and 6 boards. The living room was a mess.
  • The Garden is “our house,” except when it’s St. John’s. One was hard-pressed to pick out any of the well-dressed Duke businessmen that normally sit front row for our games in New York. Instead, hordes of SJU students packed the end zones and the place erupted over our missed shots as much at the Johnnies’ effortless buckets. St. John’s is for real in this building; they’ve already beaten Georgetown and Notre Dame at home, and both of those squads are in the top 15. But today’s performance was easily Coach Lavin’s first real assertion that he’s here to win, and the program is firmly on the upswing in its own city. With a historically populous recruiting class joining next year, the Johnnies might even make noise in beastly Big East as well.
  • The full court press was not our friend. As Duke tried to chip away at the 20 point margin in the final ten minutes, every advance was negated by a St. John’s guard weaving through our “pressure” and getting easy floaters or layups. Exhaustion probably played a role in this, as K kept the starters in for most of the game. With all of the heart of Nolan making tough jumpers late in games, it won’t matter if we don’t get back on defense.
  • Without making too many long-term, swan song-like predictions, even a conservative critic would place this game as a triumph for the Big East and a huge flop for the ACC. By now John Swofford might be thinking about football season again (yikes).

If there’s anything good to take away from this, getting plastered pissed our guys off. The two double technicals—Smith and Thornton picked ours up—showed that the boys still wanted to fight to make the result somewhat respectable (15 is better than 25, after all). Exactly a year ago, Duke suffered a similar fate on the road at Georgetown, as the ever contextual Ben Cohen pointed out on his Twitter. That loss was at least as ugly as this one, but it also refocused the team, acting as a rallying point for an eventual championship run. Another run of that sort is predicated upon, among other things, the recovery of our favorite toe in the world. But as things stand, we’re still 19-2, and will certainly improve as this topsy turvy conference season continues.

For now though, this one stings. I give massive props to St. John’s, and trust that Coach will instill the fear of God in the hearts of the good guys before we venture into College Park in a few days.

Maybe some Marvin can cheer you up? I heard he was a Duke fan.

ACC Hoops Schedule Released…Go Get 'Em

Thank you sir, may I have another? (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The Atlantic Coast Conference finally released the 2010-11 men’s basketball schedule today on their official website. And for those of you bored by our conference’s football offerings before the season has even begun, this is big news.

The ACC brass are stoked that the conference will be on television a record 182 times this upcoming year. Fans of the Big East and other power conferences complain that the ACC gets preferential treatment despite being a “weak” league. Right, a conference that has won five of the last ten natty champers is pitiful.

Here are some of the highlights of what promises to be another exciting year in ACC basketball. As the season draws closer, we will be back with full team previews. But for now, check out five of the best non-conference matchups before the New Year.

NOVEMBER 15: Miami at Memphis

Young Memphis Tigers coach Josh Pastner breathed a big sigh of relief when the best recruit of his short tenure, Will Barton, was declared eligible on August 20. I’m really impressed with what Pastner has been able to do in Calipari’s stead (how much he “learned” from the former Memphis coach remains to be seen). Miami’s sparkplug Durand Scott nearly beat Duke by himself in last year’s ACC Tournament, and young big man Reggie Johnson will fill in nicely for departing beast Dwayne Collins, who finally graduated. Look for Memphis to come out on top on sheer talent, but I’m impressed that Frank Haith has the cojones to schedule this type of game.

DECEMBER 1: Duke v. Michigan State

This game continues to lose its luster, as the Spartan guards are dropping like flies. First it was the transfer of Chris Allen to Iowa State after being kicked off the team in East Lansing. More recently, the twenty-year-old Korie Lucious, hero of the Maryland game, was caught over the legal limit while driving. Tom Izzo is probably my second favorite NCAA coach, mostly because he doesn’t put up with stuff like this. Lucious will likely be suspended for the first half of the season at the least. That leaves more of the burden on Kalin Lucas, who is rehabbing his torn ACL, and 2010 Big Dance star Durrell Summers. Yet this will be billed as the best game of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Look for Kyrie Irving to get after it against Lucas—a player to whom he has been compared in the past. I had hoped Duke would face MSU at full strength; nonetheless, Izzo is a gamer and this could be the highlight of Duke’s early season schedule.

DECEMBER 1: Virginia Tech vs. Purdue

Perhaps this is the year that Virginia Tech lives up to expectations. Many pundits think it’s a battle for second place in the conference between the Hokies and the Heels. Much of that advance praise for VT rests on do-it-all guard Malcolm Delaney, who wisely chose to return for his final year. Meanwhile, Purdue returns everyone but hard nosed point guard Chris Kramer. Pat Forde even put them ahead of Duke in his preseason rankings (but he has a hard time with such predictions). This would be a statement game for Seth Greenberg’s program—which returns everyone—and until I see Robbie Hummel play as well as he did pre-torn ACL, I think the Hokies have a good shot. Just don’t let Jeff Allen loose on JaJuan Johnson…that won’t end well.

DECEMBER 4: North Carolina vs. Kentucky

In a battle of the teams I hate the most, UNC and UK face off yet again in this home and home series. Recently, ESPN’s sometimes knowledgeable college hoops blogger Eamon Brennan stated that UK has a slight edge in this matchup. It’s tough to say. Both teams have the same problem: a lack of proven size. Kentucky’s frontline is thin: 6’8” frosh Terrence Jones, Florida transfer Eloy Vargas, and perhaps Turkish semi-pro Enes Kanter, if he is ruled eligible. UNC has the sometimes healthy Tyler Zeller, the “wet noodle” John Henson, and Mr. Barnes, who’s supposed to be a guard anyway. I think the game hinges on Kanter’s eligibility. If he plays, he will be too much to handle down low, and combined with UK’s superior guard play led by Brandon Knight, I think Kentucky squeezes this one out. Look for UNC’s season to be a reverse of last year’s: a slow start with a more productive second half.

DECEMBER 4: N.C. State at Syracuse

The ‘Cuse shocked a lot of people last year by reaching #1, but that’s mostly because people weren’t familiar with Wes Johnson and/or didn’t have respect for the Orange’s experience. Now most of that depth is gone, and for once in his life, Sidney Lowe has something to be excited about in Raleigh. All the hype has been loaded on CJ Leslie, but we think incoming point guard Ryan Harrow will determine State’s success as much as anyone. The frontcourt favors the ‘Cuse (remember the name Fab Melo), but the Wolfpack have an early chance to prove that they belong in the same breath as Duke and UNC for the first time since, I don’t know…Julius Hodge?


Look for our ACC Rundowns as the season draws closer. And be sure to follow us on Twitter.


Deviled Eggs: July 12th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best.

Coach K, Kyle, and the rest of us can't wait until next year. (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.)

Kyle, Nolan Hungry For More

Duke fans, we are incredibly lucky two have not one, but two very, very special kids representing Duke basketball and Duke University. Also – both Nolan and Kyle were selected to play on the USA Select Team, which practices against the Men’s National Team as they prepare for World Championships in July.

J.J. Redick is a Hot Commodity

Da Bulls offered him a three-year, $19 million offer sheet on Friday night. But the Magic want to keep him in Orlando. Either way, J.J. is getting paid.

Scheyer Eyes Miami Roster

With three superstars on board, Miami may be the perfect place for Jon to get a shot at success in the NBA. We wish him the best.

Austin Rivers Loves the Duke Store…

…just like the rest of us. Even though he won’t be announcing in August, we’re pretty sure he’ll be a Blue Devil when it’s all said and done.

ACC, ESPN Agree to 12-Year Deal

Which means more local games will be syndicated to Raycom. At least the second UNC game will be on CBS in Primetime.

Kings of the Dance

For any of you who may have forgotten: exactly thirteen weeks ago, Duke won the 2010 National Championship. Another excellent video from DukeBluePlanet, as usual.

PS. This video will be the best nine minutes and twenty-two seconds you spend on the internet today.


Deviled Eggs: June 14th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best.

Nolan, Seth, and Kyle impress at CP3 Elite Guard Camp

Chris Paul hosts this annual event for the best high school and college guard prospects in the country. Duke was represented well, as Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Seth Curry were the cream of the crop at the event.

Nolan was all smiles at the prospect of next year’s team. In Mr. Smith’s words, “we’re gonna be loaded.” You can check out interviews with Kyle and Seth as well.

Coach K Academy

Coach K’s annual fantasy camp attracted ESPN’s own Gene Wojciechowski. The camp, which also features former Duke stars as camp coaches, allows for an immersion into Duke Basketball for old folks willing to drop a few grand.

ACC reshuffling?

A well written piece describing the potential repercussions of Nebraska’s move into the Big 10 (Big 12 now I guess). Could Duke potentially be shifting conferences?

Brian Zoubek at 76ers Camp

How good is Brian Zoubek? The 7-footer recently showed off his constantly improving game for the 76ers at their training camp.

Coach K Makes Bank

Coach K- bringing newfound meaning to “Get money, get paid.”

Quincy Miller- Getting Buckets

Finally, check out this new mixtape with highlights of some of the top high-school ballers from across America at Nike EYBL. Duke-recruit Quincy Miller holds the spotlight from 1:38 – 2:10, and he does not disappoint. For even more coverage of Quincy “Youngtruth” Miller from EYBL, check out this video.