Shaun Livingston was recently cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball and although he only feels about 75% physically, Dave Reynolds of the Journal Star reports that 10-12 NBA teams have expressed interest in the Clipper free agent.
One of those teams should be the Golden State Warriors.
After a horrible injury in February 2007, Shaun Livingston played in scrimmages last week for the first time in 17 months, according to Reynolds. However, Livingston reportedly turned down a one-year guaranteed contract from the Clippers, who recently signed Jason Williams instead. That means Livingston has to look for a new home while he recovers.
Having already turned down guaranteed money from the Clippers, you have to wonder what Livingston is looking for? And what could the Warriors offer to make this happen?
A two-year “try-out” contract
San Jose Mercury News sports writer Tim Kawakami was all over the second question last Friday when he suggested on his blog that the Warriors offer two years and about $1.7 million dollars guaranteed to Livingston. His rationale:
If I’m the Warriors, and I haven’t yet decided whether to re-sign C.J. Watson, and I’m still not sure Ellis should and will play full-time minutes at point guard, and I don’t know yet about Marcus Williams’ dependability (and I don’t want Williams and Ellis to be my long-term back court combo)… I offer two years, $1.7M guaranteed...
Given the uncertainty surrounding the Warriors point guard situation, Livingston provide another young option with plenty of talent. If Livingston recovers and performs well by the much-anticipated summer of 2010, then either the Warriors can look to add him to their long-term plan or he can look elsewhere for a better fit having proved that he can still play.
What the opportunity boils down to is a mutually beneficial two-year “try-out” contract – Livingston gets a chance to prove he can still paly and the Warriors get to see if Livingston is another piece of the solution at point guard. For the Warriors, it’s low risk, high reward.
Kawakami goes on to support his argument with eight very convincing reasons why the Warriors should offer Livingston the contract. However, I hope to extend that argument with reasons why Livingston could want to come to the Warriors.
Time to Recover
First, even after Livingston feels 100% physically, he’s will still have to re-adjust to the physicality of the NBA. We’ve already seen a similar case of a tall guard recovering from an ACL injury – Penny Hardaway – and as you may remember, he never returned to form. And Hardaway was an all-star prior to his injury; Livingston was only a still developing part-time starter who came straight out of high school before his injury. He was still developing when he went down and will need time to get back to where he was. So it’s probably unfair to Livingston to believe he can come in and produce right away.
However, in suggesting potential destinations for Livingston, Hoopsworld.com listed the following teams: Denver, Miami, Oklahoma City, Phoenix. These are all situations where a team would be depending on Livingston to be a backup right away. Which means additional pressure to perform as he recovers and continues to develop. If he fails and the team has to find a replacement or demote him, it could be demoralizing.
The Warriors might provide better circumstances for Livingston, although he would come into training camp as the third string point guard. But there’s another fact that makes this a potentially promising situation for Livingston – he has 60 starts at point guard in his short career, which is more point guard experience than the entire Warriors roster combined.
Although Monta Ellis has been designated the point guard, nobody knows whether that will work out. Ditto for Marcus Williams as the backup. So this allows Livingston two things. First, there will be no pressure for him to play right away, so the Warriors could slowly increase his minutes as he regains his feel for the NBA game. But second, once he does get a feel for the game, he figures to have an opportunity to move up the depth chart despite the Warriors' seeming glut at the point guard spot.
If Livingston were to prove that he can play big minutes, he is actually the perfect guard to play next to Ellis, either as a back-up or – long-term – as a starter. Kawakami described that well:
When healthy, Livingston displayed terrific defensive skills (Pippen-like length) and some decent passing instincts. If you had to design a guy to play alongside Ellis, it’d be a young, very tall player with ball handling and passing skills and major defensive strengths.
I think this would be a major plus in Livingston’s eyes, too–what non-ball hog point guard wouldn’t love to play with Ellis for the next five seasons?
If Livingston was successful enough to play big minutes next to Ellis, the Warriors would have a number of back-court combinations to play with depending on match ups: Ellis & Stephen Jackson, Ellis & Williams, Ellis & Livingston, Livingston & Jackson, Livingston & Williams. As we should all know by now, Don Nelson is a coach that loves mismatches. Livingston would the team another back court option, which leads to the next reason why Livingston should want to come to Golden State.
The right style of play
“Finding the right situation, the best style of play will be key for me being able to show I am truly back,” Livingston told Reynolds.
If the style of play he’s looking for is up-tempo with scorers all around him to make highlight reel passes to, then the Warriors should be at the top of his list. Kawakami wrote about how Livingston would create mismatches, but that’s only part of the story. The other part is that the Warriors’ tempo is perfectly suited for a player like Livingston.
The Warriors like to play up-tempo basketball and Livingston’s court vision makes him an excellent fit. However, he might also benefit the Warriors in the half-court next to Ellis. Ellis is blossoming into one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers and if the Warriors play to build their offense around him, it would be to their benefit to surround him with good passers. Livingston definitely qualifies.
Imagine a lineup of Livingston-Ellis-Jackson-Randolph. If the Warriors surround Ellis with good passers and have him coming off screens or cutting to the basket, they would be extremely difficult to defend. The advantage Livingston has over Marcus Williams is that with his height, he can make passes over the defense that Williams might struggle with. Livingston would make the Warriors’ half-court offense even more potent.
Defensively, he’s a fit as well. The Warriors don’t have a lot of great one-on-one defenders, but with the length and athleticism they already have they could have one of the best zone defenses in the league. Imagine trying to beat a zone that had these players: Livingston-Ellis-Randolph-Wright-Biedrins. It would be the skinniest lineup ever played in the NBA, but with that length and athleticism, it would be extremely difficult to make interior passes against a defense like that. And both Livingston and Ellis have good instincts playing the passing lanes. They could create a lot of turnovers, which would in turn fuel their fast-break offense.
Livingston vs. CJ Watson
Kawakami mentioned CJ Watson as the other third-string point guard option and he has an advantage over Livingston in some ways. First, he played with the team last year, so he is more familiar with their system and probably knows his role is only as a third-string guard. Second, he played with the team during summer league, where he probably became more familiar with the system and put up some impressive numbers.
However, Livingston has a clear advantage in other ways – he has more experience, better court vision, and better ball handling skills. Watson is also more of an energy player who doesn’t shift gears very well – even in summer league he got caught with offensive fouls running full steam into a player. If Livingston works out, he would give the Warriors a different type of point guard than Ellis and Williams.
Whereas Ellis and Williams have been more scorer oriented in their careers, Livingston is much more of a pure distributor. Since Nelson looks for mismatches, having different types of point guards to run the offense for different scenarios might be appealing and it might also result in more minutes for Livingston as well. Having a pure distributor that can play next to Williams or Ellis off the bench would be a huge asset for the Warriors as they try to build a more flexible roster.
Another thing that the Warriors lost with Baron Davis’ departure is rebounding at the point guard position. And rebounding is an area of concern for the team overall as well, although Ronny Turiaf should help that situation. It’s also an area where Livingston has a considerable advantage over Watson.
The key number to look at is rebound rate, which is the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds while on the court. In his last two seasons (2005-2007) Livingston’s rebound rate was 7.0 and 6.9. Watson’s rebound rate was 4.7 last season. That would have ranked Livingston at about 5th or 6th among qualified point guards last season, whereas Watson would have ranked about 50th.
Rebounding is key for the Warriors because it’s much easier to fast break off the rebound than taking the ball out of bounds. If Livingston could rebound that well for the Warriors, it would be one more way to earn minutes and another reason for him to want to come to the team.
One more piece of a bright future
After spending two years mismatching small, why not shift to mismatching to big…and skinny?
Assuming Livingston is able to recover and play well, the Warriors could be a perfect fit for him. But not only for the present, but the future. The big thing for a rebuilding team is developing a core group of players to build around. If all these young players develop together as a unit here’s what the Warriors would have to think about in the summer of 2010:
That lineup would be versatile, a potentially strong team defense, and could have enough to form the foundation for a perennial playoff team if they could add a strong post scoring threat. Add in Turiaf and you have a very well-rounded team.
If Livingston is looking for the best opportunity for himself and his future, it’s hard to think of a better situation for him than the Warriors. The only question left is whether he declined the Clippers’ offer due to money, security, or opportunity.