Ever since taking hold of the Golden State Warrior reins in 2014, Steve Kerr has had an embarrassment of riches to work with.
The mainstays—a two-time NBA MVP in Stephen Curry, a three-time All-Defensive first-teamer in Draymond Green, a four-time All-Star in Klay Thompson—got their first taste of gold in year one of Kerr’s tenure.
Sprinkle in Kevin Durant, a former regular season MVP and two-time Finals MVP, to sweeten the original pot and it’s resulted in two more NBA titles (three in total). And, with DeMarcus Cousins added to the mix, the team may end up with its fourth in five seasons.
Those are the sexy names, the media darlings and the star talent—but there are two players who have been there since the inception of this dynasty that don’t receive nearly enough credit.
Mention Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to Kerr and you’ll hear him rave.
“In many ways the unsung heroes of our team over the last four years,” Kerr said of his veteran pairing.
As the “backbone” of Golden State’s second unit, Iguodala and Livingston have made their biggest impact through pestering opposing offenses. Having the luxury of tall wings with long arms, Kerr experimented with a tactic, which, at the time, hadn’t been implemented before. To say it worked would be an understatement.
“They represent a lot of what we’ve done defensively, in that, we put a bunch of 6-7 guys who could switch,” Kerr said. “And Shaun and Andre were two of the biggest reasons we decided to go with that strategy because they were great with that stuff.
“So I’m just lucky to have coached them and to continue to coach them. They still are an enormous part of what we do, on and off the floor.”
Father Time Is Undefeated
Both Iguodala and Livingston were selected in the top 10 of the 2004 NBA Draft, with the former being older than the latter.
Though Iguodala’s 36,013 career minutes essentially doubles that of Livingston’s total, the younger one feels about the same age as him.
Battles with injuries early in his career and putting in extra hard work to continue playing at 33 years old have admittedly worn on Livingston.
In late November, Iguodala hinted to NBC Sports Bay Area about retiring within the next few seasons. Is it fair to say Livingston is in the same boat?
“I mean, honestly who knows?” Livingston told Basketball Insiders as Warrior trainer Drew Yoder wrapped a bag of ice around his knees. “A year, couple years? But I mean, it’s coming sooner than later. Handwriting is on the wall.”
Named Mr. Basketball for Illinois in 2004 and a McDonald’s All-American standout at Peoria Central High School, Livingston was a top point guard prospect in the nation. Instead of attending Duke, he decided to enter the draft, where the Los Angeles Clippers took him fourth overall.
Livingston’s stint with the Clippers went well when he played. The issue was his body wouldn’t allow him to stay on the floor.
As a rookie, a dislocated right patella and torn shoulder cartilage sidelined Livingston for 52 games. The following year, he missed the first 21 games of the season with a lower back injury.
What happened on Feb. 26, 2007, however, was a tragic moment no basketball fan will ever forget.
On a fastbreak drive to the basket, Livingston lost his balance after a layup attempt and landed awkwardly. Writhing in pain, he had broken his left leg, dislocated the same knee, severely sprained his MCL and tore his ACL, PCL and meniscus—all in one life-changing sequence.
It was so devastating that Livingston almost lost his leg. He had to re-learn how to walk. Months upon months of rehabilitation were necessary to do so.
But Livingston was determined to return. Sure enough, in June 2008, he was cleared to resume basketball activities.
His contract with Los Angeles had already expired and he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, so he became an unrestricted free agent.
While he was blessed to be playing at all, the road was still rocky for Livingston from there. The Miami HEAT offered him his first contract post-injury. He only played four games for the organization before he was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies and subsequently waived the same day.
Whatever it was—a D-League stint, 10-day contracts, trades—Livingston continued to grind, playing for seven organizations in six years. He found footing at the end of 2013 in Cleveland and continued the momentum the next season in Brooklyn, where he started a career-best 54 games and averaged 26 minutes per contest.
Livingston’s fight to not only keep his career afloat, but also make an impact in the process attracted the Warriors’ front office towards him. Three championship seasons later—the rest is history.
“Just being able to get to a position to where I can contribute, and for me personally, that was my goal,” Livingston said of what kept him going. “My goal was to continue to get better and be on better teams.
“I felt like if I was on better teams and able to contribute to a winning team, I felt like I was doing something right because they wanted me.”
So how will Livingston look back on his career when it is all said and done?
“I’ll be pretty proud of the fact that I was able just to stick with my career,” Livingston said. “I didn’t give up on myself.
“It’s just something to hang my hat on. A part of my character. It’s who I am more than anything, not the kind of player I was. It’s more about who I am as a person. That means more to me than anything I could do on the court.”
Who’s Up Next In The Bay
Of course, the show must go on in Golden State once Livingston decides it’s time to retire. Luckily for the franchise, they have a ton of promising players on deck.
Warrior guards Quinn Cook and Jacob Evans, along with young frontcourt players like Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Damian Jones, are the future. Some of them are getting meaningful minutes already, while the others are observing and preparing themselves.
“I mean, those guys are grinders,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “They’ve worked their way to this position, now it’s about getting better. It doesn’t stop once you’re here. They haven’t ‘made’ anything. It’s just about getting better and continuing to help the team grow.”
As soon as the subject of growing talent was brought up, Livingston loudly responded with a stern voice: “LOONEY.”
“I mean that’s a perfect example,” Livingston said. “He’s our most important big right now with Draymond [Green] out, know what I mean? ‘Cause of what he brings to the table and he knows how to play. He’s always in the right spot.
“So that’s the progression of him being here these years and watching, learning from the vets – watching Andre [Iguodala], watching Draymond. And now he’s one of the main core guys that has to be on the floor.”
Player development is an element of Golden State’s organization that hasn’t really been talked about all that much, but has certainly been impactful on the depth of the roster.
Just look at when Curry went down with an injury—Cook had to step in and start, while two-way player Damion Lee supplanted those bench minutes.
Or with Green and, recently, Jones being out now, consider the job Looney, McKinnie and Bell have done filling the void.
“It’s important for every organization to grow from within and to develop young players, guys who may be new to the league and put into complementary roles,” Kerr said.
“We work really hard with our guys who are in that situation and I think they’ve made great strides. But it’s critical. You have to constantly be thinking about your entire roster.”
Durant insists that player development is the main focus of the league and has been an integral part of Golden State’s reign as champions.
“Obviously when you win, it’s always about the trophy or the guys that help you get the trophy,” Durant told Basketball Insiders. “But you’ve got a lot of young guys in our organization that work extremely hard every day. That’s the core of the league. That’s just the foundation of the league, is player development.
“It’s a next man up league and you’ve got an opportunity to play or get minutes, shots and you want to take full advantage. So everybody’s putting in that work just in case their number’s called.”
And if you want to know who’s next up for the Warriors, both Livingston and Kerr agree that it’s Evans.
Focus On The Season At Hand
While looking at the past and pondering the future can be on Livingston’s mind, he is 100 percent locked in on what’s happening in the present.
Golden State’s record is 17-9, good for fourth place in an extremely tight Western Conference at the beginning of December. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster season for the back-to-back defending NBA champions.
“Keeping guys’ body language, keeping their spirit right, that’s pretty important,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders of powering through.
There has been a bunch of injuries to key players, reported discord between certain guys in the locker and inconsistent effort game-to-game. Basketball Insiders asked what needs improvement on the court.
“I think it’s our defense, but I think that comes from energy and effort,” Livingston said. “I think we have the right group. And part of that is we’re a younger group, so we’ve got some young guys out there that’s feeling their way out.
“But it comes down to energy and effort and sometimes in the regular season, obviously the 82-game schedule catches up to you.”
However, the Warriors are well on their way back. After missing 11 games with a groin injury, Curry has returned to the floor, invigorating the team’s spirit with more than just his talent.
“The fact that he’s the type of player he is only elevates us,” Livingston said. “And then, his presence, as far as just his positivity. He never gets too down on himself. It’s just more about next play mentality and that just always helps coming from your best player.”
Livingston’s shooting numbers are down this year. On the bright side, he is coming off a 3-for-4 night against the Cavs.
He’s not asked to do much scoring with the abundance of talent around him, but when he does, there’s always the bread-and-butter of Livingston’s game—the backdown, turnaround 10-foot jumper.
It’s been a staple to the veteran’s career ever since he’s been in the league and it has served as a dagger to many opponents.
“You always have to try to have a go-to move or something that can get you a bucket when you need it, that you rely on when you may be struggling,” Livingston said. “It’s just about being a threat on the court and that’s really where it comes from.”
Pose a question to Livingston about what makes him who he is as a player, and he’ll tell you that it’s unselfishness—the characteristic that made Livingston so highly sought-after as an 18-year-old.
And that’s why Kerr and Golden State’s organization love him.
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.
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