Original photo: The Dark Knight poster
Ever since Shaun's knee injury in 2007, knee problems have haunted him as he tried to make his NBA comeback. After working his way up from the NBA-DL and eventually getting stints on various teams (Heat, Thunder), he would find a starting gig on a struggling bottom-of-the-barrel Wizards team still reeling from Gilbert Arenas' gun issue. He would become one of the lone bright spots on a bad team.
On the heels of his strong performances in Washington, the Bobcats would sign Livingston to a two-year, $3.5 mil/yr deal with a team option for a third year at the same salary. However, knee problems would reoccur and keep Shaun out through most of training camp and the preseason.
He would be healthy in time to for the regular season's commencement, but would struggle to find his way in the offense for a bit. This would prove to just be Livingston shaking off rust as he would find his role on the team as a 6th or 7th man. He wouldn't get many shots on offense, but he would hit them efficiently and play well on defense. After Silas came aboard, Livingston would adjust and flourish in a more unfettered offensive system.
February would prove to be his month, with games of 22, 18 and 13 points off the bench. Considering Silas' policy of going with the hot hand, one night Livingston could have 20+ minutes and the next, only 12. Regardless, he was playing well and efficiently on both sides of the court until he would ultimately suffer a season-ending lower back/tailbone injury.
Considering the Bobcats' past couple years were built around defensive-minded players lacking multi-dimensional, efficient offensive skill sets (outside of a few players - Jackson, Diaw), Shaun Livingston has been great to see thriving. His game is ‒ and I hate to use this cliché ‒ like poetry, flowing on fast breaks and smoothly cutting through to the lane. Just as fluidly, you can see him scan the floor in front of him as he pushes the offense until he reaches the free throw line and stops sharply on a floorboard, elevating and rising out of reach from his defender and knocking down the jump shot. Or maybe he finds a cutting teammate. Or maybe the transition defense has recovered too much and he isolates in the post and backs his man down until he can spin and put the ball through the hoop off the glass. He may have games here and there when he may struggle, but it's hard to watch him often and not come off impressed with his court vision, decision-making and versatile offense that glides around defenders.
Though long lacking the range of most guards, Livingston makes up for that with his athletic gifts and playmaking ability. On offense, his unique height for a point guard (6 foot 7 inches) allows him to see over his defender and oversee the court. This height, coupled with his long arms and ability to elevate over his defender in one-on-one situations on jump shots make him an incredibly tough guard for opposing guards. He's also a very creative player on offense and has the ability to get nearly anywhere on the court and to open up passing lanes. He also moves well without the ball, making strong cuts. Transition offense is a strength as well. He's not outstandingly fast or supremely quick, but he can push the ball upcourt and retains vision of the court and usually makes the best decision in what to do with the ball, whether that may be to find an open player in the corner, a cutting teammate, taking the pull-up jumper himself, or drawing back to wait for the rest of the team and set up the halfcourt offense. He may not be able to shoot the long ball, but his midrange shot is pretty solid, with his ability to shoot over just about any point guard. He also has a good post game and can back down his man on the block for good looks. And just for good measure, you should note that he's excellent from the charity stripe (86.4%).
However, he's a poor spot-up shooter, making a merely mediocre 34.8% FG on spot-up attempts. When opposing teams play zone defense, forcing the Bobcats to try to shoot over it, Livingston can struggle.
On defense, Shaun is above average. I don't want to say he's great, because occasionally he doesn't close out on his man very well, but his athleticism and length allow him to be better than most. His size and long arms get in the way of opposing point guards trying to survey the floor and get into passing lanes, leading to steals. He also has the ability to block shots and force opponents to change their shot. Holding his opponents to a paltry 36.8% FG (including an impressive 19.6% FG in isolation plays and 35.2% FG in pick and roll situations!), it's easy to see he has a positive impact on the defensive side of the floor. Further, his size allows the Bobcats to switch on screens nearly at will. If he could add some bulk to his skin 'n bones, he might be able to be an even more versatile defender, though I wonder if that may cost him some of his quickness.
If you still have qualms about his knees, I think he's fine ‒ or as close to fine as he can get. He no longer wears a knee brace and sticks to just a compression knee sleeve. Sure, he may not be as athletic as pre-injury, but he's still an exceptionally gifted athlete. He had more than a couple crowd-pleasing dunks and he pinned a Marcin Gortat shot against the glass. His 73 games this season are the most of his career, though playing the least minutes per game for the year probably helped. The fact remains: this is probably the healthiest he's been in his career for a season.
What to Work on
Shaun could certainly stand to work on his range, though I'd really like to see him really solidify his post game and long midrange shot. As I said above, perhaps adding some muscle to his frame could help. As a backup point guard, Livingston is a fantastic option and I often wonder if he could start for other teams if not now, but one day. Alas, that may just be me hoping, but I still think he has the talent and ability to do so.
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