NEW ORLEANS — Austin Rivers has thought about this day since this season’s New Orleans Hornets schedule came out.
It might cause a warm, fuzzy feeling if he were going against his father’s team, as in favorite team, tonight. However, Rivers, a shooting guard, will be going against the Boston Celtics, coached by Glenn “Doc” Rivers, who guided them to the 2008 NBA championship.
“I don’t know how to feel,” Austin Rivers said. “I’ve never gone against him in my life, ever” in a basketball game that counts.
“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun.”
If it is fun, that would be good for Austin Rivers. As he heads into the game against the Celtics (20-17), who have won a season-high six consecutive games, fun is not how he would describe his experience of late as a rookie in the NBA. In the eight games before the Hornets (11-26) played at Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Rivers had shot 3-of-25.
“I’ve struggled the past (several) games,” he said.
After every game, though, he can count on a conversation with “Doc” Rivers, who, although obviously very busy as the head coach of a team that aspires to win another NBA title, still makes time.
“He records the games,” said Austin Rivers, who left Duke after his freshman year and was the 10th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft. “He’s seen about 90 percent of my games. His best advice was for me to stay aggressive and give myself a chance to play well.
“His most recent advice was, on offense, for me to change speeds. I’m used to being one of the quickest players on the court. Up here, everybody is quick. And, he said, on defense, for me to talk more and be more engaged, and that will help me play better.”
Rivers, who was a starter for 22 of the first 28 games, is averaging 6.3 points, 2.4 assists and shooting 32.9 percent from the field. It appears he could have used another year at Duke, where he could have continued his development under Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in college basketball history and who has guided the USA national team to two Olympic gold medals. And, unlike many who go pro early, Rivers’ family obviously faces no financial hardship.
“My dad and Coach K were in favor of me going,” Austin Rivers said. “They felt my skill level was ready for the NBA.
“When I talked to my dad, he told me, ‘When your dream is in front of you, you take it and you go out there and have fun with it,’ and I have.”
Two weeks ago, injured starting guard Eric Gordon returned to the lineup. In the past week, veteran reserve guard Roger Mason has played extremely well. Those developments have pinched Rivers’ playing time.
However, coach Monty Williams said the Hornets are committed to developing Rivers.
“Austin will be OK,” Williams said. “Everybody wants the Austin Rivers from Winter Park (Fla.) High School, and that’s not realistic. He’s 20. He’s in the NBA. The last thing we’re going to do is bury him at the end of the bench where he will lose his confidence.”
Mason, who is in his 10th NBA season, signed with the Hornets even after Williams told him of the team’s commitment to Rivers. Known as extremely professional, Mason’s locker is next to Rivers’, which Mason says is not a coincidence.
“The biggest thing that I tell Austin is, the kid puts too much pressure on himself,” Mason said. “His dad is in the NBA, and Austin is a high-profile draft pick. The talent level is unquestioned. We know that he’s going to be a really good player.
“But take some of the pressure off and realize there are going to be ups and downs. Use me as an example. Keep working, and eventually your hard work will pay off.”
As a son, Rivers said today brings him back to when he and his dad played one-on-one and had shooting contests when Austin was in middle school. As a basketball player, he said he’s even more excited to be going against the Celtics.
“I used to be around those guys almost as much as I was around my dad: Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett),” he said. “Ray Allen (of the Miami Heat) isn’t there any more, but I knew him better than I knew all the others.
“And we know the Celtics’ history and all that. It’s my first time going against them, and it’s going to be crazy.”