Shaun Livingston wasn’t supposed to be here, leading a team featuring three surefire Hall of Famers.
He wasn't supposed to be perfectly timing his jump to swat away the shot of another, or sticking it to LeBron James and the defending NBA champions, or coming to within five assists of a triple-double—19 points, 11 rebounds and five dimes in the Brooklyn Nets' 104-95 win Friday night.
And he most certainly wasn’t supposed to be dunking with two hands off a whirling-dervish spin move in his 50th minute of a double-overtime game.
But the NBA is full of surprises, and no surprise this season has been met with more heartfelt fanfare than the Shaun Livingston basketball renaissance.
Viewed through the lens of what he’s been through, you might even call it a basketball miracle.
The Long Fall Down, a Longer Road Back
On February 26, 2007, in one of the most gruesome injuries in league history, Livingston—then playing for the Los Angeles Clippers—landed awkwardly after a missed layup and dislocated his left knee cap.
Few believed he would ever wear another NBA jersey—few except Livingston, that is.
He would miss the entirety of the 2007-08 season. Finally, on October 3, 2008, Livingston signed a two-year deal with—guess who—the Miami Heat.
Even though he had made it back to basketball’s biggest stage, it was clear that the explosive athleticism that made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft was gone—or at the very least in hibernation.
A stint in the NBA Development League followed, as did stretches with the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers—the kind of doldrums-dwelling franchises willing to take a chance on a former phenom.
Through it all, Livingston exuded a quiet pride that underscored his game’s transformation—from freak of nature to ground-bound floor general, highlight reel to fundamentals ledger.
Finally, on July 11, 2013, Livingston landed his big break: a one-year deal with the suddenly loaded Brooklyn Nets, where he would man the second unit behind perennial All-Star Deron Williams.
But it didn’t take long for Livingston’s job description to change, as Williams’ chronic ankle problems would press his backup into heavy service in the season’s early going.
|Finding his groove|
|First 28 games||5.9||2.4||3.1||-4.1|
|Last eight games||12.3||4.6||3.6||7.4|
A cursory glance at Livingston’s numbers might not yield anything eye-popping—his points (7.0), assists (3.9) and overall efficiency (13.9) being about what you’d expect from a second-string point guard.
In the eight games since Brooklyn’s Christmas Day mauling at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, however, his production has gone from passably pedestrian to consistently serviceable—solid, even.
In those eight games (six of them wins), Livingston is averaging 12.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 47 percent shooting from the floor. Not bad considering he’s attempted only three shots from three-point range in that same span.
The advanced metrics are even more impressive: Since December 27, Livingston has charted an offensive rating of 105.0 (compared to 102.1 in the 28 games previous) and a defensive rating of 97.6 (compared to 106.3 before).
That the Nets miss Williams’ unique abilities—the bowling-ball penetration and perimeter shooting being chief among them—goes without saying.
At the same time, with so many scoring options up and down the roster, Livingston’s pass-first instinct has helped propel Brooklyn’s offense from 101.9 to 103.6 in that eight-game stretch—not jaw-dropping by any means, but encouraging when taking the team’s improved defensive prowess into account.
The Beauty of Borrowed Time
With Williams expected to make his return sooner than later, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Livingston’s days as the Nets’ floor general are likely numbered.
Just don’t expect him to cry about it.
At 28 years old, it’s possible Livingston is all he’ll ever be as an NBA player.
Given the ungodly sacrifices he made to get here, he’ll take it 100 times out of 100.
Because if there’s anyone who appreciates the fleeting nature of basketball glory, it’s the guy who once had it all taken away forever.
If anyone is prepared to dive headlong into the fray, it’s the dude who’s suited up for more than a quarter of the league’s teams.
And if anyone understands what it means to make the most of every minute—to take everything in as spry a stride as possible, take everything the defensive gives and absolutely nothing for granted—it’s Shaun Livingston.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of January 10, 2014.