Are Rivers, Jones & Teague NBA Ready?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Three of the toughest players to project in this year’s draft class are Perry Jones III of Baylor, Austin Rivers of Duke and Marquis Teague of Kentucky. They all have very wide ranges of where they could be selected and the outlook on them is pretty divided. Some believe they could develop into high-end starters, while others view them as solid reserves, at best.
In order for the 2012 draft class to justify the hype and be mentioned in the same conversation as the 1996 and 2003 draft classes, they’re going to need a few guys like Jones, Teague and Rivers to exceed their top expectations.
On the surface, Jones may seem like the most viable candidate to bloom into a star. From a physical and athletic standpoint, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis is the only player in the class more gifted. At 6’11 he moves with the swiftness and agility of a guard. He’s a special kind of talent who can do things that few players at his size can do.
Yet, you never hear Jones talked about in the same light as Davis, because he rarely makes the most of his incredible set of tools.
ESPN’s Jason King recently did a revealing feature on Jones that chronicled his tumultuous history and shed some light on the human being behind the frequent criticism of which he’s been the subject.
It is going to be very interesting to see what kind of affect being able to financially take care of his family has on Jones. Maybe then he’ll feel less pressured, play more freely and energized.
Almost as important as anything, Jones needs to develop thick skin and become deaf to the criticism from the outside world. No matter how good you play, you’re still going to have detractors – look no further than Miami HEAT forward LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for prime examples of that. He has to worry about pleasing one person: his head coach.
Jones’ future head coach will be dealt the task of keeping him motivated and active. It’s when Jones is engaged and involved on the court that he’s at his best. When he gets caught up in watching and being a spectator, he’s a non-factor who might as well buy a ticket.
Jones’ coach will also have to figure out which position he’s best suited to play full-time. While he can play any position 3-5, he’s probably going to end up settling in at power forward. That’s where he holds the most potential to create mismatches because he can blow by bigger guys and post up smaller ones. With his length, quickness and athleticism he should be able to defend the position just fine as well.
The saying that you cannot judge a draft until three years after it has occurred was coined because of guys like Jones who are oozing in potential but have yet to put everything together. He should expect to get heavily evaluated off of the court in interviews as teams try to grasp an understanding of his mental makeup. Interviews could affect his stock as much as anything.
Jones is going to require some patience because he is not ready to do anything in the NBA right now other than play limited minutes, get garbage buckets and score in transition. If the switch flips, though, there won’t be an area in the game he doesn’t impact.
Rivers is much more NBA-ready, with an ability to score that should translate almost immediately. Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, has been playing against NBA players for several years now. He’s doing what he was groomed to do. Possessing elite-level ball handling and penetrating skills, Rivers can get into the lane virtually at will. He’s really impressive to watch when he’s in attack mode, which is pretty much all the time.
As impressive as it can be, it can also be frustrating, especially for his teammates. Rivers’ natural instincts are those of a pure scorer. He will miss guys who are wide open in transition or spotting up because he’s so focused on scoring himself.
What is going to determine whether or not Rivers becomes great is if he can find the balance between creating for himself and his teammates. He has to realize that he’s so talented that he can make the players around him better. His ability to break down a defense can make the game so much easier for them. The days of high school and AAU ball where his team needed him to go for 30+ points to win are over with. He’s going to be surrounded by quality players and he can’t ignore them or dominate the ball as he tended to do at Duke at times.
In the short-term, it would be best for Rivers to land on a team where he can play a role similar to Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry, where he can focus on offense and not have to be overly concerned with facilitating the offense. He can contribute right away offensively. In order to become a starter he has to prove that he can hold his own defensively against the bigger, longer two guards of the NBA and play within the confines of a system.
Barring a serious change in mentality, a move to point guard does not appear to be on the horizon for him, even though that may be his most ideal spot physically.
Now Teague is a natural point guard, someone who a coach can trust to take care of the basketball and get it where it needs to be. He’s developing at a different rate than his talented predecessors at Kentucky before him did, but he’s got the national championship ring that eluded them and a lot of promise in his own right.
Where Teague thrives at right now is in transition. He has a lot of speed and is tough to stop when he gets in the open court. His game, in transition and the half court, would benefit a lot from the addition of a reliable runner or floater to go to when the lane is packed. At times Teague will over penetrate and try to finish over length when there are much easier shots available.
Teague’s success in the league early on is going to be determined by where he ends up. He’s coming in the league at the right time since there are a lot of teams who like to get up and down and push the tempo. Teague can play the role of a backup brought in to up the pace right now.
He’ll need some time, like his older brother Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks, to get to the point where he can run a team as a starter. Teague struggles with his decision-making in the half court. It’s not that he gets overly aggressive like Rivers, he just makes the wrong read or gets caught up in trying to do too much. With good coaching and hard work, that can be improved upon.
Where Teague will also need to make strides is with his shooting and defending. Having a respectable jump shot will make creating for others easier because defenders won’t be able to back up off of him. His defense will be tried every night. This is a golden era for point guard play. It’s unrealistic to ask Teague to shut guys down; he just needs to contain them and keep them from erupting for huge games. He also can’t be lax off of the ball. He got burned often in college when playing too far off of his man and allowing him to spot up or have too much space off of a screen.
There’s certainly no lack of upside with Teague, or Rivers and Jones for that matter. They all hold great promise. Rivers may be the only one ready to make his impact felt right away, but down the line the trio could end up being some of the best this class has to offer.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat at 11 am EST this Friday April 20th. You can get your questions in here.