Teammate speaks highly of prospect Rivers

MINNEAPOLIS – Miles Plumlee might have been one of the highest-profile names at the Timberwolves’ draft workouts Thursday, but even roughly 1,100 miles from Duke, he couldn’t escape the cache of his former school.

Plumlee, a center, is projected to be either a second-round pick or to go undrafted in 2012, and his skill set isn’t suited to the Timberwolves’ need for an explosive shooter. So once the pleasantries ended after his workout, the inquiries about how he did in the session and what skills he’s most proud of, a different set of questioning began.

Austin Rivers. Tell us everything about him in the couple of minutes you’ve been allotted.

Rivers, who decided to go pro after his freshman year at Duke, is the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers and was the top high school recruit in his class. He was also Plumlee’s teammate for one season, and the two are close friends.

In his one year at Duke, Rivers led the Blue Devils in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game. His 3.4 rebounds per game were good for fourth-best on the team, his 2.1 assists second-best. He also averaged 33.2 minutes, the highest of any player on the squad.

After Duke’s Kyrie Irving decided to leave school after just one season (and only 11 games) in 2011, Rivers will be the second freshman to leave Duke in as many years. The one-and-done approach is far from what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is known for – only three other Blue Devils have left after just one season: Irving, Luol Deng and Corey Magette – but Plumlee said he wasn’t surprised that his friend decided to declare for the draft when he did.

“Maybe that’s just because we’re close,” Plumlee said. “You just kind of know those things when you’re friends. He gave everything he had… as a freshman, and you can’t blame a kid for wanting to chase his dreams.”

Rivers is the only Duke player who’s widely projected to be drafted, and even he won’t cause the stir that Irving did last year, when he went first overall to the Cavaliers. Even so, Rivers is a solid prospect who should be picked among the draft’s first 15-20 players.

“I think he’s going to be a very productive, reliable pro basketball player,” Plumlee said. “He has a lot of skill, a lot of talent for a young guy, and that’s the biggest thing. He’s really young. He’s going to learn the game and get better. I think his biggest intangible is his attitude. He is about as aggressive of a player as I’ve played with, especially for a guard. I think he’s really going to turn some heads.”

As long as he doesn’t turn that many heads. Right now, Rivers is projected to be selected a couple picks before the Timberwolves’, perhaps 13th overall. But he’s the kind of player – a good ball handler and shooter – that Minnesota would love to add in this year’s draft, and if he’s available at 18, it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves would pass him over without serious thought.

The Timberwolves will bring in more than 20 players in four sessions on Thursday and Friday. After that, the team will likely focus its workouts more on players that it could select with its first-round pick, and because the 18th spot is difficult to predict, they may work out more players than they did last summer. Going forward, those sessions will likely be in smaller groups, and Rivers seems a likely choice to appear.

Rivers grew up with basketball; Plumlee joked that he was coached not only with the team, but also when he went home, and he made the most if it. He’s still raw in many ways, 19 years old and with only 34 college games on his stat sheet. As much as that might be a worry for an already-young team, Rivers’ youth is also proof of just how much more he might be able to improve.

“He’s a young guy,” Plumlee said. “I think he just lives and breathes basketball. He’s going to pick anything up that you put him through, and I think he’ll adjust well.”

Right now, though, the adjusting is still a long way off. Rivers will face the NBA Draft Combine and countless other workouts. He’ll attempt to push himself toward being a guaranteed lottery pick, and his game will be examined from every angle. Plumlee, too, will spend each day hoping to improve his draft standing, and so much could change in the next four weeks.

It’s hard to say which teams have the best shot at Rivers, but the Timberwolves should be among the group that is taking a close look, even if he’s not guaranteed to be available when they pick.

Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.