Coach: Anthony Davis & Austin Rivers
Like most basketball fans around the country, I tuned in to a fair amount of college hoops this week, and spent a lot of time focusing on two players in particular: Austin Rivers from Duke and Anthony Davis from Kentucky. Both are currently projected by many to be lottery picks should the NBA hold a normal draft this spring. Some quick observations of their games leave me with a lot to like – and a lot to be desired.
The first thing to notice about Austin Rivers is that he can definitely shoot the ball well. His motion is compact, efficient, and repeatable, all attributes that will translate well to the next level. He also possesses adequate if not overwhelming athleticism, and a good sense of spacing and timing on the floor.
However, for him to be a successful player as a professional, the real key for River is how well he plays at different speeds. His top speed isn’t extraordinary, but, like a smart off-speed pitcher, Rivers can learn to that dramatically changing speeds is a great way to get around a lack of blazing top speed. In their game against Michigan State, Rivers seemed unaware of “when to slow” and “when to go.” Instead, he played much of the game at the same speed, and did not use his burst effectively. This tendency was most glaring during periods when he was in the halfcourt offense and either utilized a ball screen or drove hard at the basket along the baseline.
In ball screen attack, Rivers flirted with the screen well, but then continued to dance on his way over the screen, probing and never kicking it into gear so he could gain the necessary separation (perhaps looking for his pull up?). This gave an advantage to the defense, never forcing help defenders to commit to their help responsibilities, and resulting in a host of awkward moments in the mid-range area or at the rim. Missed shots are the lasting memory, but the issues were really with how he started his moves, not how he finished them.
Similarly, on baseline drives, Rivers would use the initial burst to get past his defender (good) but then coasted in toward the rim (bad). At the prep or AAU level, this would be good enough for him to get an easy layup or even a dunk. But as he goes higher and higher in basketball, paths to the rim get more crowded and ultimately cut off. He must continue his burst on the baseline with speed and violence, and finish the play faster – or simply stay off the baseline all together.
In the full court, a more appropriately timed change of speed would keep defenders off balance and allow defenses to make mistakes. The ability to subtly shift speeds in the open court, similar to what Kendall Marshall is able to do at North Carolina, would prove highly effective. He should be encouraged to treat the defender like a marionette, pulling the strings to get him to move up and down and changing the cadence so he is constantly in control. A great example of this at the professional level now is Stephen Curry, who is deceptive and crafty in using space and change of speed without the outright burst of a guy like Derrick Rose.
Thankfully, all of these issues are teachable corrections. He can and will work on them throughout the season, especially if he can see good video breakdowns to help him recognize the problems early on. Rivers has the talent to be an effective combo guard at the NBA level, and he can use this year at Duke to really increase the learning curve.
Anthony Davis might be the most physically gifted power forward since Kevin Garnett. His length, stride, will, and energy are eye-catching to say the least, and when you can say with confidence that at worst he will be a much better version of JaVale McGee and at best he can be at least as good as KG, that is a pretty good starting point.
Beyond the physical, though, Davis really piqued my interest by doing some pretty impressive things from a game understanding standpoint. With thinner players, there is a continual concern about their physicality. However, that worry was put to rest early with Davis. He initiated contact off the ball continually, willing to meet opponents with an arm bar in the chest or back and not backing down when more experienced players attempted to intimidate him. In addition, young players often make the mistake of constantly attempting to block the shot of the players they are guarding, which often leaves them out of position at best and fouling at worst. It is simply a low-percentage play. Davis, however, challenges the shot of his matchup, then moves to rebounding position effectively. He also sees the value in going for weakside blocks, and moves into those areas quickly, giving the offense a chance to feel safe before uncoiling for the block.
Davis races the floor, which is a major positive (and is breathtaking to watch), and he will pick up points just by virtue of his speed and commitment in transition. However, he is often out of position on the offensive end, and seems a little lost between being a post player and being a perimeter player. This is definitely teachable, and his season at Kentucky should help him in that regard. He plays well as the screen and roll player, holding his screen long enough and timing his roll to the basket well.
In the post, however, Davis needs to recognize spots to seal his defender after he rolls when he doesn’t receive the ball immediately. In addition, he does not take advantage of his defender being out of position after skip passes, and lets the defender move around him much too easily. Anticipation here is the key, Coach Cal will be teaching Davis how to recognize what will be available at least one pass ahead of time. Davis will get easy scoring chances by carving out that spot and claiming it as his own, then demanding the ball once it gets to the player who can find him. This comes through experience.
Overall, there are few prospects over the last few years to be as excited about as Anthony Davis. Watching him grow and mature over this season should be a real gift for basketball fans and whoever picks first in his draft.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 3PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.