This week, we’ll embark on a different style of draft profile; a tale of the tape between similar players. Austin Rivers and Dion Waiters are highly confident & aggressive shooting guards with sweet handles and deep shooting range. Both declared for the draft; Rivers currently resides around 17th on most boards, while Waiters sits in the early twenties. Weighing their strengths and weaknesses will serve as the basis for “who is the better prospect?”
Size: According to draftexpress, Waiters is 6′ 3.5″ with a 6’6.5″ wingspan. He features a highly muscular physique, tipping the scales at 210 pounds. Rivers is 6′ 5″ and carries a 6′ 7″ wingspan. He needs to add strength. I’m going to call this a tie. Outcome: Rivers 0.5, Waiters 0.5
Age / Experience: Turning 20 in August, Rivers is an old freshman. Waiters reached 20 in December though and completed two years of NCAA ball. In this battle, youth proves advantageous; Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 0.5
Scoring: In 33 minutes per game, Rivers averaged 15.5 points on 43 / 37 / 66 shooting (53.8% true shooting). In 24 minutes, Waiters tallied 12.6 points on 48 / 36 / 73 (56.5% TS). Both can extend the floor and attack the basket; Rivers heads to the free throw line more regularly, but makes fewer while there. Thanks to higher efficiency, Waiters tallied more points per minute despite Syracuse playing at a a slower pace. Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 1.5
Distribution: As a quality pick and roll ball handler; Waiters’ 2.5 assists per game bests Rivers, despite A-Riv playing ten more minutes at a faster pace. Also committing fewer turnovers, Waiters ranks 8th of 83 shooting guards (draftexpress.com database) for the advanced passing stat of Pure Point Rating, while Rivers lags at 64th. Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 2.5
Rebounding: Neither rebounds well. Fortunately with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Varejao and TT in tow; it won’t matter.
Intangibles: I recall reading or hearing that Waiters butts heads with Jim Boeheim. Austin Rivers is the son of a 13 year NBA vet and the current coach of the Boston Celtics. Both play with a bit of an edge, but the point goes to the NBA lifer. Outcome: Rivers 2.5, Waiters 2.5
Defense: One sentence from draftexpress can summarize Rivers defensively; “he was not an impact player.” Watching him, I didn’t note a lot good or bad; he gives decent effort and typically stays in front of his man, but doesn’t possess high-end strength, length or athleticism to be a real stopper. For an informative article on the impact of various players in the Syracuse zone, check out this Sports Illustrated Piece. Waiters is strong & aggressive, ranking 13th in the NCAA by ending 4.6% of defensive possessions with a steal. Outcome: River 2.5, Waiters 3.5
Impact on team: Duke struggled during Rivers’ limited time off the court, outscoring opponents by 0.5 points per forty minutes, compared to +11.2 per 40 when he played. Syracuse played approximately 8 points better per forty minutes with Waiters (+17.7 compared to +9.9), but featured the third most talented roster in the NCAA. Duke relied on Rivers a lot more than ‘Cuse lived or died by their sixth man; the edge here goes to Rivers. Outcome: Rivers 3.5, Waiters 3.5
Last 10 games & Game notes: Over the final ten games, Rivers limped into the season’s finish line, converting only 39% of his field goals and 30% of his long distance shots. Duke lost in the semifinals of the ACC tournament and the first round of the NCAA tournament. Waiters’ shooting improved as the season wore on, connecting on 42% from three down the homestretch. For more details, let’s look at game recaps:
In Lehigh’s March Madness kick-off victory over Duke, Rivers scored 19 points, on inefficient 49% True Shooting. He only had 1 assist against 2 turnovers, as Lehigh’s big men effectively hedged on pick-and-roll defense all game (a skill sorely lacking in the college game). In addition to frequently impeding his forays to the basket, the Mountain Hawk bigs caused defensive problems at the basket, too. On 9 possessions amongst the trees, Rivers only scored on three, finishing two of seven field goals at the basket. If a lack of elite athleticism creates finishing problems against a #15 seed in the NCAA tournament; it’s probably something to work on as you head to the NBA . Occasional over-aggressiveness in the passing lanes resulted in a Lehigh three and a non-existent block-out allowed his six-foot tall counterpart to snag an easy putback.
Against Florida State in Duke’s 59 – 62 ACC tournament loss, Rivers again was a volume scorer, tallying 17 points on 50% true shooting. He exhibited slick ball handling and got to the basket moving left and right. He finished better at the rim (4 of 7) & showed skill drawing contact at the basket, but turned the ball over three times while driving; once on a travel and twice trying to collect the ball going up for a shot. Even when dribbling left handed, he tried to switch to his right hand to finish, losing control of the ball in the process. His shooting abandoned him, converting only 1 of 5 three point attempts. Effort and positioning on defense were solid, but another missed boxout resulted in an FSU offensive rebound, which forced Rivers into his 3rd foul. If Rivers exhibited more physicality when rebounding, maybe he would grab more than 9% of the available defensive boards.
In Cuse’s Big East tourney loss to Cincinnati, Waiters unleashed the highest scoring game of his career. His 28 points came thanks to seven made three pointers, several of which were behind the NBA line and one that was waaaaay behind it (the game was at MSG). Three of his four assists were drive-and-kicks for three and the other an alley-oop to Fab Melo. He scored or assisted on 57% of the Orangmen’s points. Ultimately they lost though, as the Bearcats carved up the Syracuse zone in the first half. UC made eight first-half threes, half of which Waiters was at least partially accountable for; either closing out too hard & jumping past a pump fake, making a lazy zone rotation, or simply mis-communicating on a zone assignment. Not sure this means anything from the perspective of NBA defense; in the second half, he was much more focused and snagged a couple of steals.
Against Ohio State on 03/24, Waiters battled foul trouble, only playing 20 minutes and scoring 9 points of 2 – 8 shooting. Whereas he flashed deep shooting range against Cincinnati, this day his speedy and elusive driving ability was featured. In limited time, he put the ball on the floor and got to the basket nine times. Results were mixed though; twice he shape-shifted for spectacular and-ones, but several times he hoisted out-of-control shots or turned the ball over. I counted 9 points on his 9 possessions used off of dribble penetration, so overall, not horrible results. There was also a baseline drive ending with a hanging, wrap-around pass to his big for an open dunk. His shot selection and poor finishing left something lacking (mainly points), but he showed off an array of ball-handling and body control maneuvers to continually get to the rim.
Watching the two play, there is something dynamic and exciting about Waiters that lacks with Rivers. Advantage and 4.5 to 3.5 victory to Waiters!
Summary: The combination of Waiters’ efficient scoring and his low turnover rates allow him to best Rivers in offensive rating while also being more used. D-Wait produced 116 points per 100 possessions and was relied upon for over one-fourth of the Orangmen’s trips down the court. Despite using 1.5 less possessions per 100; Rivers only tallies an offensive rating of 105. PER tells a similar story, with the Syracuse sixth man at 26.1, compared to the Duke star at 16.8. Combining Waiters’ current edge offensively, defensively & as an athlete, at only 8 months older, I think he’s a better prospect and would provide a suitable backup to Kyrie and at the two-guard. If the Cavs can luck into Anthony Davis or MKG with their first pick, then trade up and nab Waiters; I’ll call that a huge draft day success.