In 2012, Duke University played the University of North Carolina. Both were ranked in the top ten. The Tar Heels were led by Harrison Barnes and built a huge led with ten minutes left. But then Duke began their comeback with two minutes left and Tar Heel fans began to get nervous, as if they were witnessing a nightmare. Seth Curry of Duke hit a three. His teammate, Tyler Thornton, hit a three. Carolina’s Tyler Zeller accidentally tipped in a ball into Duke’s basket cutting the Tar Heels led to one. Then Zeller missed a free throw which set up Austin Rivers improbable probability. The ball found its way into Rivers hand, who dribbled beyond the three point line. With 1.5 seconds remaining, Rivers launched a step back three while his father and sister watched from the stands.
A few months later, in a highly debated but non-controversial move, Austin Rivers made himself available for the NBA Draft. Many felt he needed another year before entering the NBA. Rivers ended up being a lottery pick at number 10, going to the New Orleans Hornets.
Rivers has played 544 NBA games, sixth best among 2012 lottery picks. He’s in the middle of the pack of his lottery class in points scored and 3-point shooting, and at the bottom of the lottery class in field goal percentage. But Rivers is still in the league eight years later while number 5 pick, Thomas Robinson, and number 13 pick, Kendall Marshall, is not.
Because of his last name, Austin Rivers has always had to disprove a negative. Privileged because he was Doc Rivers son, many considered Austin as born on third base but thinks he hit a triple. He received benefits he didn’t deserve. Partly true and untrue. His last name made his life both easier and more difficult. At this point, with so much NBA time invested, Rivers has earned his career.
But what about the other players on the court in that Duke-Carolina 2012 game? Is it possible that Rivers has had the best NBA career?
Seth Curry. The brother of Steph was undrafted mostly because of his athleticism or lack thereof, and size, 6-2. But he has the Curry shooting gene. He’s been around the NBA block and currently plays for the Mavs (2019-20: 12.6 ppg. 45% 3-pt shooting).
Mason Plumlee. 22nd draft pick of the Brooklyn Nets. He played for Portland and has been with the Nuggets since 2017. A good passing center, Plumlee is a glue guy who comes off the bench. (2019-20: 7.2 ppg. 5.3 rebounds.)
Ryan Kelly. 2nd round pick of the Lakers. Had problems making shots which was supposed to be his specialty. 3 years in Los Angeles. 1 year in Atlanta. (NBA career: 6.0 ppg. 37.8% field goal shooting)
Andre Dawkins. Undrafted who only played in 4 NBA games for the Miami Heat. (NBA career: 0.8 ppg. 16.7% field goal shooting.
Quinn Cook. Undrafted. Before he landed in a perfect spot in Golden State he was a rostered player on Dallas and New Orleans but only played 14 games. Not so for the Dubs. In two seasons, he played 107 games and won a title. Now he is with the Lakers. (2019-20: 4.8 ppg. 37.9% three point shooting).
Michael Gbinije. Second round pick for the Detroit Pistons. He only played 9 NBA games. He plays in Lithuania. (NBA career: 0.4 ppg. 10.0% field goal shooting)
Harrison Barnes. A lottery pick, Barnes was taken 7th in the NBA Draft and high expectations followed him to Oakland. He was a NBA champion but hasn’t proven to be anything more than a second or third option. He doesn’t have face of the franchise personality or game. He’s a nice player with an above average scoring skillset but he’s not much of a defender, rim protector or athlete. He’s played for three NBA teams and received max money from two of them, Dallas and Sacramento. (2019-20: 14.7 ppg. 4.8 rebounds.)
Tyler Zeller. The brother of Cody and and Luke, he was the 17th pick in the 2013 draft. Zeller played for 6 NBA teams. He was a big man in a small league sans the offense or defense to be a difference maker. His seven foot height kept him in the league but the intangibles- not explosive around the rim, not a stretch 5- kept him in a box and expendable. His last year in the league was 2018-19 (Atlanta, Memphis.) (NBA Career: 7.0 ppg. 4.4 rebounds)
John Henson. The 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Henson never lived up to his lottery pick potential. However, he was one of the first to announce to the world that Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to blow up. Henson is a rangy big man with limited offensive game. He was drafted by Milwaukee and played for Cleveland and Detroit this season. (2019-20: 6.9 ppg, 4.4 rebounds)
Reggie Bullock. The 25th pick of the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers gave up on Bullock. For his part, Bullock has created a niche for himself as a perimeter shot maker and a decent defender. He’s played on 5 NBA teams, both of the L.A. clubs and the hapless Knicks. (2019-20: 8.1 ppg. 40% field goal percentage)
Kendall Marshall. A lottery pick who shouldn’t have been a lottery pick- Robert Sarver and the Suns strike again- Marshall had elite passing skills but was an awful athlete and shot maker, 32% field goal percentage his last season. Marshall was not blessed with speed and was tortured on defense. He was both feast and famine. His liability on the floor erased his blessed passing skills. He last played in the league in 2016 and returned to UNC to complete his degree. He is now UNC Director of Recruiting. (NBA Career: 5.0 ppg, 37.1% Assist Percentage).
James Michael McAdoo. Undrafted power forward. He didn’t have the physicality inside, nor the skilled shot making to last in the league. His last year, 2017-18, he played 3 games, shooting 28.6%. But he has two rings as a member of the Warriors. He is playing in Europe. (NBA Career: 3.0 ppg, 1.7 rebounds)
P.J. Hairston. Hairston was suspended from UNC for off the court activities including speeding, reckless driving, marijuana possession, and driving without a license. He was the first D-league player to be drafted in the first round but he struggled scoring the ball and was traded from Charlotte to Memphis, which ended his career. Legal troubles followed his retirement in 2018. (NBA Career: 3.0 ppg, 34.3% field goal percentage).