Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors
In 2004, Shaun Livingston decided to forgo college and jump straight into the NBA. He was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. He was selected ahead of players like Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith because of his enormous potential as a tall, pass-first point guard.
In his few first seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, he showed flashes of the potential that had people (unfairly) comparing him to Magic Johnson. However, in early 2007, in a game against the Charlotte Hornets, Livingston suffered what is considered to be one of the worst sports injuries ever.
After going up for a fast-break layup, Livingston’s knee buckled while landing. He dislocated his patella, his tibio-fibular joint and tore his ACL, PCL, lateral meniscus, and badly sprained his MCL. Players tend to tear one ligament (usually the ACL) when they suffer a major knee injury. Sometimes a torn ACL is accompanied by a torn meniscus. However, this injury was different. This injury was so bad that it was later reported that Livingston’s leg was at risk of needing to be amputated. Livingston’s career was in jeopardy.
On June 16, 2008, over a year after the injury, Livingston was cleared to resume basketball activities by his doctors. He was a free agent at this point, and signed with the Miami HEAT in October, 2008. He only played in four games for the HEAT, and was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies (and waived that same day). He then bounced from team-to-team, going from the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League, to the Oklahoma City Thunder, to the Washington Wizards, to the Charlotte Hornets (traded), to the Milwaukee Bucks (traded), to the Houston Rockets, back to the Washington Wizards, to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and most recently to the Brooklyn Nets, signing a minimum contract to back up Deron Williams.
In Brooklyn last season, Livingston averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. While these numbers are not overly impressive, it was Livingston’s athleticism, playmaking and defense that helped turnaround a struggling Nets team. On March 12, John Schuhmann of NBA.com wrote, “The Brooklyn Nets are the most expensive team in NBA history, and their most important player right now is a guy [Livingston] making the league minimum.” At that point, the Nets were 8.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively (since January 1) when Livingston was on the floor. His 6’7 frame, 6’11 wingspan and athleticism allowed him to effectively guard opposing point guards, and switch onto shooting guards and small forwards when needed.
After years of bouncing from one team to another, showing flashes of the player he once was, Livingston grabbed the attention of the league with the Nets, often outplaying star point guard Deron Williams, who has struggled with ankle injuries for the last few seasons.
On July 1, Livingston and the Golden State Warriors agreed on a three-year, $16 million contract. It is the first significant contract Livingston has gotten since his rookie deal, and is the reward of never giving up on his tough road to recovery. But the Warriors didn’t commit their full mid-level exception to Livingston because it is a feel-good story, but because of the versatility he will add to a backcourt that lacked significant help off the bench last season.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were the best three-point shooting duo in the league last season. Curry is a good playmaker, a threat from almost anywhere on the court and a top-10 player in the league. Thompson is athletic, has good size for a shooting guard, runs off the ball for open shots well and is lethal from the beyond-the-arc. However, Thompson is not a great playmaker, and this requires Curry to handle the ball a great deal. With Livingston, Curry can now work off the ball, and focus more on his own scoring. In addition, Livingston has the size and skill to fill in for, and play alongside, both Curry and Thompson.
There are weaknesses in Livingston’s game however. The biggest deficiency in Livingston’s game is his three-point shooting, which has been an issue going back to his rookie season. After nine seasons in the league, there is little reason to believe this is something Livingston will ever really be able to address. However, Livingston is most effective when he is setting up teammates, and is able to overcome his lack of three-point shooting with his other unique contributions. Also, between Curry and Thompson, there is more than enough three-point shooting for Golden State’s backcourt.
Some may argue that offering Livingston the full mid-level exception over three years is too much for a guard with an injury history like Livingston. However, at age 28, and in his ninth season in the NBA, Livingston played in 76 games for Brooklyn last season, the most in his career. He also played 26 minutes per game, the most since 2006-07, when he played 29.8 minutes per game. He also looked closer to his old-self physically, throwing down big-time dunks every so often. Also, in a free agency market where Ben Gordon agreed to terms ona two-year, $9 million deal, and Jodie Meeks got a three-year, $19 million contract, Livingston should be considered fair value, if not a bargain, considering his versatility and defensive impact.
For a Golden State team that relied on Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford to supplement Curry and Thompson off the bench last season, Livingston is a significant upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. The Warriors were the third-best defense in the league last season and now add Livingston, who was one of the best defensive players for Brooklyn last season. Livingston also gives the Warriors an insurance option in the event that the Warriors trade Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love, as has been discussed. His three-point shooting will be an issue, and he cannot replace all of Thompson’s production, but with Love in the fold, along with Curry, three-point shooting will not be a weakness for the Warriors. Livingston also provides some insurance for Curry, who has his own history of injuries.
The Warriors rewarded Livingston for years of hard work and perseverance. If last season was any indication, Livingston will reward Golden State for taking a chance on him and making a significant investment in him.
– Jesse Blancarte