Stone Cold Austin Rivers: Eye of the Tiger


Jan 16, 2013; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New Orleans Hornets guard Austin Rivers (25) reacts during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden. The New Orleans Hornets won 90-78. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The eye of the tiger is not something you can teach. You are either born with it or you are not. Austin Rivers was, and no one should be surprised.

You might think, but Doc Rivers is such a calm, well-spoken, and respected coach. True, but Doc has always had some tiger-blood in him too. He did play for Riley’s Knicks. 

The basketball world got a glimpse into Austin’s stone-cold veins when he was a freshman and splashed a game winner versus the Tar Heels, behind enemy lines.  I love how loud a silent crowd can feel after a shot like that.

Young men incapable of buying a beer normally don’t step into moments like that so willingly. Watch the play again, it isn’t like he catches the ball with a second left and has no choice but to shoot. Austin had teammates screaming at him but waved them off, with the old “I got this” look in his eye.

The eye of the tiger.

Austin’s rookie year was nothing to write home about. Foot injuries before the season and a broken hand after the all-star break turned year one into a wash. He showed flashes of great potential (including a career-high 27 point game), but never had the opportunity to do so consistently.

This offseason, the Pelicans have made some interesting moves, bringing in Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. By adding two legitimate threats to a core already consisting of Austin, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, and Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans have become one of the most intriguing young teams in the league. Tyreke and Jrue will significantly cut into Austin’s minutes, but not necessarily in a bad way.

It will take a lot of pressure off of Austin, pressure that he’d probably have taken head-on and maybe suffered from. Being too heavily relied on can be detrimental to the development of a young player like Austin, who hasn’t defined his niche yet in the NBA. He only spent one year in college and didn’t even get to play a full rookie season. In NBA dog years, he is still a puppy.

If Austin was asked to come in and run the offense or carry a bulk of the scoring load, it would be too much. You can assume he would accept as much responsibility as possible, and that’s the attitude you want from a young player, but a gradual transition into a leadership role is much more natural and a diligent par for the course.

It will be interesting to see how Austin works with his new teammates. The roster is loaded with young talent, but the fact remains that it is unaccomplished talent. Jrue has been to the playoffs with the Sixers, but he wasn’t the go-to-guy on that team and Tyreke has never been on a winning team. Can these youngsters learn how to become winners together, with minimal veteran leadership? It remains to be seen.

Related Note: These guys have such awesome first names, I can’t help but use them: Austin, Jrue, Tyreke…I mean, come on

Austin will bring fire off the bench (I predict he doesn’t start) and could find his niche doing so. I would like to see him designated as a scorer off the bench, with high energy and a green light to shoot the rock. It fits his game and personality, which could accelerate his progress as a young NBA prospect. The occasional bad night will also carry less of a burden over the season with a designated role off the bench.

This season probably won’t be the breakout season for the Pelicans or Austin, but it should be a major step in the right direction. If significant progress can be made, don’t be surprised if this team is contending in the near future and Austin finds himself in another clutch moment.

In basketball, attitude is equally important to talent. Austin has an abundance of both and a great opportunity to take strides this year toward NBA stardom. The league will have to take notice, because this kid isn’t afraid.

“If you want to read more NBA stuff from Jenks…