Realistic Expectations for Shaun Livingston's 1st Season with the Warriors

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Realistic Expectations for Shaun Livingston's 1st Season with the Warriors
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Shaun Livingston is 28 years old and entering his 10th NBA season. By normal standards, this would place him squarely in his prime.

Livingston's path has been anything but normal, however, and this makes it difficult to assess where he is along his career timeline.

The Los Angeles Clippers drafted Livingston No. 4 overall in 2004. The 18-year-old phenom was projected to be a franchise point guard due to his fluid athleticism, ridiculous length and tremendous ball handling, passing and court vision.

He was both tantalizing and disappointing during his first three seasons. He would show flashes of brilliance and potential, but also struggled to assert himself on the court as most superstars in the making do.

Then, a horrific knee injury derailed his career. He was hurt on Feb 26, 2007 and did not return until the beginning of the 2008-09 season. He appeared in only 12 games for two different teams that year, and 36 games for two teams the following year.

He finally regained a rotational role for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010-11, but continued to bounce around even as his game and body returned to form. The Golden State Warriors will be Livingston's 10th team in as many seasons.

While his lengthy catalog of injuries and NBA teams make Livingston look like an over-the-hill NBA veteran, there is also an argument that he is just now hitting his stride.

Despite being drafted in 2004, Livingston has only played in 466 games. A player with no injuries or DNPs reaches this number before completing their sixth season. That isn't to say that Livingston doesn't have mileage on him—almost every part of his left knee was decimated in that injury—but rather that he is still relatively inexperienced. 

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One could argue that Livingston is actually less experienced than someone who plays their first 466 games within six seasons. He has only had consistent minutes in four of his 10 seasons, and has had to relearn how to play after his injury, making the first part of his career somewhat of a wash.

Last season was, in a certain way, Livingston's first real season as an NBA player. He got hurt when he was 21, an age at which many players are still in college. Since then, his career has been about recovering and finding roster spots. Last year, the Brooklyn Nets gave him a big role, and he set career highs in games (76), starts (54) and minutes (1,974).

In Brooklyn, he also found a system that worked for him. Playing alongside other ball handlers and shooters allowed him to operate from the post, where he is as effective as any guard in the league. With Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams drawing defensive attention and spreading the floor, Livingston was able to act as a point forward offensively.

The Warriors' front office took note. They aggressively pursued Livingston early in free agency, realizing how perfectly he fit their roster and how many needs he simultaneously addressed.

There are many parallels between Golden State and Brooklyn.

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Andre Iguodala, like Pierce, is a natural swingman who can play small-ball 4 due to his decent outside shot, great strength and defensive IQ. Klay Thompson can shoot off the dribble, from the high post or in a catch-and-shoot situation, much like Joe Johnson, and similarly struggles to score inside. Both have the size to play small-ball 3.

Curry is a far superior outside shooter to Williams, but both are threats from deep who can create with their dribble as well.

New Warriors coach Steve Kerr is attempting to implement a triangle-esque offense. While Jason Kidd did not run a triangle in Brooklyn, he did run similarly fluid-yet-deliberate half-court sets. Livingston's smooth-yet-cerebral game should fit right in.

There's more to the Livingston signing than how he complements Golden State's starters, namely his ability to back them up.

He should make a very good third guard in Kerr's rotation, as he can run the bench offense, run the point next to Thompson or spell Thompson at the 2.

That third role will be especially intriguing. Thompson and Curry are known as great partners due to their unreal shooting, but the biggest reason they fit together is Thompson's defense. He will guard the more-dangerous player in an opposing backcourt, whether they are a 1 or a 2. Livingston, who is also 6'7", is similarly versatile defensively.

With limited cap flexibility this summer, the Warriors were able to use their one real resource—the full mid-level exception—on a player who fits into virtually every type of lineup.

That malleability is not the only reason Livingston's three-year, $16 million contract is a bargain, though. Since 2013-14 was Livingston's first full NBA season, there's also potential for dramatic improvement despite his age.

Let's briefly fantasize about a best-case scenario.

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After finally turning the page last season on his long journey back from his horrendous injury, Livingston begins to trust his body like he did when he was younger. He combines that with the mental toughness and confidence he's gained through all his adversity, and becomes the best backup point guard in the NBA.

It doesn't take much revising to turn that best-case scenario into a cautiously optimistic one. Say he just continues to build on the confidence that he regained last season; this would still be a career year for him.

Health permitting, he should keep trending upwards over the course of his contract. This means that by year three, the Warriors' option to retain him for $5.3 million could be awfully useful.

Of course, health may not permit. Livingston is currently out as he recovers from toe surgery, and while he should be ready for opening day, he'll still be playing on a surgically repaired left kneecap, ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus.

That will remain a reality until the day he retires. For now, the Warriors hope that his unconventional career path leads to some delayed gratification.

 

 

Stats and contract figures courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and HoopsHype.com.

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