Shaun Livingston has had a long, difficult journey through the NBA. However, in Brooklyn, he may find his niche and may show some of his once-great potential.
Livingston was brought in to replace C.J Watson, a completely different player. For one, the most important facet of Watson's game is his perimeter shooting. On the contrary, Livingston is a player who penetrates due to his ineffective outside game. Watson is a shoot-first point guard, Livingston pass-first.
Watson is 6'2", Livingston is 6'7". So, to put it simply, the Nets went in the opposite direction when looking for a new backup point guard this summer. And one other thing: Shaun Livingston is tough.
As even the most casual NBA fan knows, the defining moment of Livingston's career came on February 26, 2007, when he suffered an injury so horrific that he almost lost his leg in the emergency room, so horrific that Livingston has never watched the video.
As Jonathan Abrams of Grantland wrote recently, "He sustained tears of his anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament, lateral meniscus, and retinaculum, the tissue that surrounds the kneecap. He tore his medial collateral ligament and dislocated his tibia-femoral joint and patella."
The speed that had people comparing him to another L.A. point guard of similar stature was gone. The BBIQ remained, as did the toughness. He never played again for the Clippers, didn't play at all until the beginning of the 2008-09 season, signing with the Heat. He wasn't the same player. But slowly, he has worked his way back, emphasis on the work.
He didn't get discouraged. He went from Miami to Memphis, where he was immediately cut. He joined the Tulsa 66ers and had a short stint with the Thunder, then the Bobcats, Rockets, Bucks, Wizards and finally the Cavaliers, where he backed up Kyrie Irving and his best season since he went down. In one three-and-a-half season stretch, he didn't play on the same team for more than 10 games.
So, after bouncing around eight teams in 11 years, will his most notable career event that freak injury in 2007? He hopes not. It's not that he hasn't improved every year since the injury and he thinks he can get better still. He told Abrams last February,"I still feel like my prime is 28, 29. There is still potential left out there. But the league isn't getting any older. It's getting younger. I don't want to hold myself back. I do want to try and accomplish more. I do feel like I can accomplish more. I can do better. I can get better production on the court."
The tools are there: size, athleticism (if diminished) and talent plus a freakish wingspan for a point, 6'11".
What the Nets offer is opportunity. Jason Kidd and Lawrence Frank are both very high on Livingston and pushed for his signing. Even though he can't spread the floor like Watson, he can showcase his length and penetrate into the lane and kick out to an open wing or drop a no-look dime to a cutting big. The Nets also plan on combining him with Deron Williams, with Williams the shooting guard. He assisted on nearly a quarter (23.6%) of all teammate baskets while he was on the floor in Cleveland, dropping three dimes for each turnover.
Kidd sees Livingston's size as unique for a point guard. At 6'7", he is a mismatch for smaller defender and his speed can burn opponents and his frame can help him reach past undersized defenders to get into the paint. On defense, Livingston can guard points, off-guards and small forwards and give the Nets a lot of versatility when they look to their bench for help.
Playing with D-Will --or Joe Johnson-- Livingston can provide Brooklyn with a much bigger lineup. Expect Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett to get many touches in the post due to Livingston's penetration. "Small ball" gets a lot of attention, but don't discount "big ball," opening up the outside for shooters D-Will, Johnson and Paul Pierce late in the game.
Livingston has great handles for a player of his height. His long, lanky frame can fit through tight holes that defenses show, allowing him to get into the lane and finish at the rim, which he does quite well. His .673 shooting percentage in the restricted area is significantly better than the league average; on par with most forwards and the elite backcourt players.
Livingston did a fine job backing up Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, averaging 7 points and 3 assists on 50% shooting in just 23 minutes, starting 12 games after Irving went down. The Cavaliers wanted him back, but Kidd persuaded to join Brooklyn ... he hasn't made the playoffs since he played so for the Clippers the season before his injury.
The Peoria high school standout won't be asked to do that much in Brooklyn. Like the Cavs, the Nets have a superstar point guard in front of him and another athletic point behind him on the depth chart (Tyshawn Taylor), but if Livingston can come in in spurts and give Williams a break, pair with him or Johnson in big backcourts, he will have done his job.
His confidence, spurred by an extraordinary work ethic, is what likely propelled Kidd and Frank to push the Nets to sign Livingston. It's not lost on the new coach that the Nets were criticized for having no heart least season. Now, with a player that has a story like Livingston, the Nets have a guy who's proven he has as much heart as the coach has.