Shaun Livingston won’t be wearing a cape when he takes the floor for the Wizards. They’ve lost seven games to start the season without him, Washington could very well lose the next seven games with him. Although, as a survivor of an infamous knee injury—one that not only could have been career-ending, but also leg-ending—he probably feels like he has protective cape on his back for the rest of his basketball playing days.
Livingston has been on three different NBA teams since his previous stint Wizards in the aftermath of the 2009-10 “Guns in the Locker Room” season—he signed late that February and appeared in 26 games. He called his time in D.C. a “turning point” for his career at his first practice on Friday afternoon, relishing in how it all came together: the chance and minutes that then-coach Flip Saunders gave him, his knee responding well, and finding confidence. But as fate would have it, the Wizards landed 2010 No. 1 draft pick John Wall, they dealt for Kirk Hinrich on the night of that draft, and they still had Gilbert Arenas on roster. Livingston was no longer needed. “That’s just the name of the game, those things happen,” he said.
Livingston signed with the Bobcats that offseason and continued his strong play in 2010-11. His career-high 14.4 PER in 26 games with the Wizards only dipped to 14.3 in 73 games with Charlotte. But then he was traded again in the offseason, this time to Milwaukee, where he appeared in 58 games during the lockout-shortened season with a PER of 11. Then, another offseason trade to Houston—Livingston was sent as part of a deal that allowed the Rockets to clear Samuel Dalembert’s contract off their books. But Livingston never suited up in Texas and was waived on October 29. It took a couple weeks for the Wizards to finally come calling.
“I haven’t played yet this year. Just anxious to get out there, very anxious. Just gotta get my legs back, get my wind up, and I’ll be alright,” said Livingston when presented to the media after Friday’s practice. It’s a totally new locker room, Livingston has noticed. As well advertised, John Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are the longest-tenured Wizards. Livingston and Cartier Martin did, however, appear in eight games together at the end of that 2009-10 season.
It’s not all new, though. X’s and O’s specifically:
“There’s still some of the same plays from when Flip was here, some of the same coaching staff. I mean, it’s the NBA game—pick-and-rolls, learning the sets, and just playing basketball,” said Livingston, indicating that he can help bring comfort to the winless Wizards with his ability to run the offense. ”I can fit in well. Just being versatile, also being a natural point guard just to kind of help guys with direction. This is my ninth year. I’m only 27, but still, I’ve had a lot of experience.”
But no matter the experience or comfort level, fixing Washington’s scoring woes won’t be an easy task. The Wizards have the least efficient offense in the NBA, averaging just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the undefeated New York Knicks average 111.6 points per 100 possessions; the 4-3 Charlotte Bobcats average 100.7.*
“To maximize guys’ potential—the scoring on the wings, low post with Kevin [Seraphin]—just trying to get easy buckets as well,” said Livingston about what he can do to help. ”I think everything’s kind of hard, from what I watched it’s been kind of bogged down, and hopefully [I] can just come and help guys get easy buckets. You get a couple easy buckets, you get some confidence, you get some momentum, you’ll play a little bit looser.”
What did Wizards coach Randy Wittman think about the decision to waive Jannero Pargo and sign Livingston?
“I thought we needed to get another play-maker, a guy that can facilitate, maybe get us easier baskets,” Wittman said. “Shaun has that ability, I think he’s a very high IQ basketball player, gives us more size, too, with John Wall out. Never an easy decision, but it was one that, when he became available, I’ve got some familiarity with. I think he can help us.”
“Obviously you can post him some, but he just knows how to run a team. He knows which guys are hot, how to get them the ball, that type of thing,” said Wittman when asked what Livingston’s game does to open up his offensive playbook. “And the size. I just think he gives us good size at that position that we haven’t had.”
Part of Pargo’s downfall could be his very last shot as a Wizard. He failed to recognize the open, hot-shooting Cartier Martin in the corner and instead faked a pass, hesitated, and fired up a missed, contested 3-pointer. One thing you know Livingston won’t do: jack the 3 ball. He’s attempted just 11, making three, in his last 157 NBA games.
According to mysynergysports.com, with the Wizards Livingston averaged a solid 1.1 points per possession (PPP) on post-up plays and 1.0 PPP on pick-and-roll plays as the ball-handler, rates which ranked 10th and 8th respectively in the NBA that season. In Charlotte, his PPP on post-ups dipped to 0.89 and to 0.80 on pick-and-rolls. In Milwaukee, his post-up and pick-and-roll PPP stood at 0.75 and 0.57 respectively. Clearly there’s been a decline, but Livingston’s not around to score. He’s around to be capable, and the ability of his 6-foot-7 frame to see the floor and teammates from both a post position and from around the arc could reveal passing lanes and cuts previously unseen by this Wizards team.
Livingston is a minor, but necessary change. If the status quo continues for the Wizards—the losing—he could simply be a blip on the radar in a sea of necessary forthcoming change, maybe even starting at the very top of basketball operations. If you ask many Wizards fans, such a change is long overdue. But that’s not the point right now. The point is that the Wizards, led by point guards A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo in the absence of Wall, were not cutting it. Not completely their fault, although Pargo was quite bad. We’re talking 0.4 PER bad. Signing Pargo was akin to finding an old, dirty Band-Aid on the ground and slapping it on a deep cut. Livingston is more reliable, more steady, and he may not signal wide-scale changes to the struggling Wizards, but his presence could be significant.
The guy who once tore his ACL, PCL, MCL, and dislocated his patella—all in the same knee, all on the same play in late February 2007—could be more than a Band-Aid for the Wiz Kids. He could be the brace that helps them finally learn how to win.
Highlights: Shaun Livingston with Bobcats, 2010-11