HOUSTON — Everybody has a plan until they get hit. That’s what Mike Tyson used to say.
When the Hornets made him the No. 10 pick in the draft, the plan was for Austin Rivers to settle in as Eric Gordon’s long-term partner in the backcourt.
But with Gordon still having not played a game this season due to a knee injury, there is a burden on Rivers to carry much more of the scoring load. So far, it’s been too heavy a lift.
On the up side, Rivers opened Wednesday night’s game against the Rockets by knocking down a 3-pointer from the left corner and then dropped in a running teardrop down the right side of the lane. Trouble is, he missed five of the other six shots he tried and continues to struggle to find an offensive rhythm.
“I know it’s gonna come,” Rivers said. “So I’m trying not to think about it.”
However, everyone else watching the Hornets is. What they see is, through the first five games of the season, Rivers has made only 10 of 40 shots and is just 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point line. He hasn’t made half his shots in a game even once.
“I think he’s doing a decent job,” said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. “He tries to defend. He does what we ask him to do. It’s just that when you’ve been a, quote unquote, explosive scorer your whole life and then you don’t drop 25 to 30, people think you’re struggling.
“There are not many 20 year olds who are going to come in and do that in the NBA. I’m sure he would like to see that ball go in that basket a few more times. I would too. But he’s still doing some things that we like. He causes a lot of problems in pick and roll. He can get to the basket. He’ll figure it out. It just takes some time.”
Rivers puts in extra time shooting after practices, but that’s just a continuation of his habits that made him the national prep player of the year in 2011 and a top gun at Duke in his lone college season.
“I don’t think I’m pressing or trying to do too many much to get myself going,” Rivers said. “Actually, I’m really trying my best not to think about that part of the game at all. I know that I can shoot. I know that I can score. I know what I can do. It will come.”
It’s the outside shot, especially from the deeper NBA 3-point line, that has been most glaring for its ineffectiveness. When Rivers has been able to find the bucket, it’s most often been by getting into open spots to make his runner or by pulling up from mid-range. He’s also been able to attack the basket, draw the defense to him and then set up his teammates.
While Rivers has been known as a scorer throughout his young career, the truth is he has always been more of a volume shooter than a proficient sniper. Last season at Duke he shot just 43.3 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from the shorter 3-point line. Now he’s finding it harder to get all of the shots that he wants. There have always been questions about whether Rivers can be a full-time point guard.
“The one thing that he’s dealing with is scouting reports,” Williams said. “Teams have time to prepare for you. In college you have that. But at Duke they prepare for seven or eight other opponents they have. The league does a really good job of figuring your game out and you’ve got to counter what they’re doing.
“Sometimes they try to take his right hand away. He still can get to wherever he wants to go. Now he’s got to learn how to finish over size. He’s never dealt with the kind of size and athleticism he’s dealing with now. Guys figure it out. That’s just the nature of the NBA.”
Late in Wednesday’s game, Williams switched Rivers defensive assignment from James Harden to Chandler Parsons. The 6-foot-9 Parsons used his height advantage to nail a tough, 20-foot fadeaway with Rivers’ hand in his face.
“What can you do?” Williams said with a shrug. “You can’t guard everyone and I thought Austin had his hand right in his face.”
He’s 6-foot-4, but slighter in build than many of his opponents. He is no longer able to look like the best athlete in any given matchup, even when he isn’t giving up height.
“You always have to adjust,” he said. “I adjusted from high school to college and now I’m adjusting again to the NBA. It’s nothing that’s gonna be a long term. It doesn’t even bother me. I’m getting the looks that I want. I’m getting into the lane at will.
“I’m getting my floaters. I’m getting my mid-range shots. I have had trouble knocking down the 3. It’s stuff that I’ve always been good at and I still am. It’s just that they haven’t started to fall. Yet.”
The longer Gordon is out, the more the heat gets turned up on Rivers now, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan.