The majority of us are quite pleased with the Golden State Warriors' agreeing to terms with Shaun Livingston in the first 24 hours of the free agent signing period - in our uber scientific poll, 90% of the GSoM community graded the deal as an A or B.
However, it was pretty clear from some of the reactions throughout the evening that we weren't all entirely familiar with Livingston's game - basic things like "can he play point guard?" to bigger things like "how well does he defend?" While we can all stare at numbers on our computer screens to figure out some of these questions, I figured it would be helpful to get some insight from someone who has been invested in watching him during what could be considered a breakout season.
For more about the salary cap implications of signing Livingston, I strongly recommend Mark Deeks' piece about how specifically this transaction might limit the Warriors financial flexibility (including their ability to pursue Kevin Love) and I'll have more on that later. But for now, Tom Lorenzo of SB Nation's Nets Daily (@TomLorenzo) was kind enough to answer a few specific questions that I culled from our comments to help us understand how Livingston might fit the Warriors.
Q&A with Nets Daily on Shaun Livingston
1. GSoM: I was pretty excited about the Warriors getting Livingston, but mainly for his potential to do things that aren't quantified well: defending 2-3 positions and ball handling next to a scoring guard like Stephen Curry. For those of us west coasters who didn't watch much of Brooklyn this year, can you just describe some of the things he brought to that team that might not show up in the numbers?
Tom Lorenzo, Nets Daily: I think one of the key things he brings, that often goes unnoticed - though you mentioned it - is that he can guard multiple positions. His length and speed allow for him to slide over from guarding point guards to larger, more athletic wings. In fact, the Nets used Livingston in spots on LeBron James in the playoffs and the regular season, and he was able to hold his own. Of course, there isn't a tougher guard in the NBA than LeBron, and it wasn't as if Livingston shut him down, but he was able to disrupt, especially with his length.
Livingston can play both on and off the ball, and where he's really dangerous is in the low post, especially when he penetrates, because with his long arms he's able to shoot over defenders, and if the bigs collapse, he's savvy and smart enough to dump it off. So, what you're getting is a long point guard who can play and guard multiple positions, who is long, quick and an underrated defender. The knock, of course, is that he needs to work on his jumper.
2. GSoM: Some Warriors fans seem to fear that Livingston's reputation is built upon a strong playoff performance (when more of us were watching) that included a second round match with an eventual NBA Finals participant, a la Harrison Barnes. The numbers don't clearly support that notion - and Mark Deeks even described his playoff performance as "strikingly poor" - but is there any reason for Warriors fans to believe that the player we watched with the Nets in the playoffs might not be the same guy who shows up in November?
TL: Shaun Livingston was moved into the starting lineup for the Nets back in early January, after Jason Kidd decided to go to his "long" lineup with Brook Lopez out for the year and the Nets sitting at 10-21 on the year. Brooklyn ended up winning 10 of their next 11 games, righting a sinking ship and ultimately earning a spot in the playoffs. Of course, it wasn't "only" because of Livingston, but he played a major role in turning the team around.
The thing about Shaun is that he's a really, really hard worker and a very, very smart kid. No one in the NBA has had to take the path and course to get where he is now -- from nearly having to amputate his knee to being a key starter in the league some years later. That doesn't solely define him, but it speaks to his character, work ethic and determination. He's had his dream taken away from him, and he worked hard as hell to get it back. So, does that mean he'll continue to thrive and improve? Of course there's no guarantee he will. But, I'm certain he'll continue to put in the work -- first in, last out -- and won't take this opportunity for granted.
3. GSoM: Those of us who are excited about the signing love his strengths, but there are obviously concerns about his weaknesses - the biggest weakness, of course, being his three point shooting. Were there ways in which defenses took advantage of that or any other weaknesses of his?
TL: I wouldn't worry too much about Livingston's weakness as a three-point shooter. It's something he can continue to work on, but I think if you're the Warriors you would rather he continues to play his counter game in which he penetrates and either collapses the defense or shoots up over the defender from six feet. That's where he does his best work. The Warriors have enough three-point shooters. If Livingston can get easy buckets in the paint, force the defense to help, that should only help provide better looks from deep for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and everyone else. Yes, he's not a very good three-point shooter, but I don't think it will be much of an issue in the Golden State system.
Other weaknesses are frame, strength and those cringe inducing moments where he lands awkwardly on a fastbreak dunk. Those moments, I hate.
4. GSoM: On the other side of the ball, despite me seeing his defensive versatility as valuable, the metrics we have available (Synergy, RAPM, +/-) rate him as a rather average defender. Defense isn't easily quantified but there's some concern that his defensive ability has been overstated, particularly for a team that was already a very good defensive unit last season.
You've already mentioned his effort to contain LeBron in the playoffs and Zach Harper of CBS Sports did a good job describing how disruptive he can be as a team defender. But are there situations or specific matchups you remember that he struggles with that might explain the avg metrics?
TL: I think the biggest issue is frame, as opposed to length. In that, bigger guards tend to be able to get physical with him, which can result in defensive struggles -- we saw this against DeMar DeRozan in the playoffs when he was matchup up on him. And that's what makes the job he did against LeBron all that more impressive -- though, truth is, not one player every really contains LeBron, right? It's more of a team effort, which speaks to help defense in general.
Again, it's all about length with Livingston, whether it be challenging jumpers or disrupting the passing lanes. He's movable, which is due to his small frame, but he can still challenge on defense because he has such a large wingspan.
5. GSoM: There's now a rumor that with Livingston departing, the Nets could make a trade for Jarrett Jack who Warriors fans are obviously very familiar with. Given what you know about Jack, how are you feeling about that potential deal and replacing Livingston with Jack?
TL: Jack was a lead target for the Nets last season as a backup point guard. Jason Kidd loves Jack and was trying to advocate for the Nets trading for him at the deadline. But, they opted for Marcus Thornton instead. I'd be fine with Jack coming off the bench. I don't necessarily think of him as replacing Livingston, since Livingston played a lot of '2' last year, but I do think that the Nets need a backup point guard. They relied all too often on Jorge Gutierrez, who you can't push as your second or third point guard on a title contending team. With Deron Williams coming off double ankle surgery, the Nets absolutely need another veteran point guard, and I'd like to think Jack could do a nice job filling in.
6. GSoM: David Aldridge tweeted that Jason Kidd's bizarre departure wasn't "a major factor" in Livingston departing. But how much fear is there that Kidd's departure could in fact have a ripple effect on the team going forward (e.g. KG and Pierce departing)?
He said Jason Kidd's bizarre departure from the Nets was not a major factor for him. "But Jason's situation didn't help matters," he said.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 2, 2014
TL: The ripple effect shouldn't have all that much to do with Kidd's departure. I don't think there are many guys on the Nets who would stand by and behind Kidd. It's not that he had lost the locker room, per se, it's more that he hadn't won it over.
To me, the ripple will be about money and the future of the franchise. The Nets at this point would rather develop Mason Plumlee and get a 6th seed in the playoffs than have Kevin Garnett come back at $15 million and get a 5th seed instead. They'd rather bring over and develop Bojan Bogdanovic than give Paul Pierce 2 years at $12 million per. And I don't think those decisions have much to do with Kidd, but more to do with a reevaluation of how the season went last year and where they think they need to bring this team.
I won't say that Kidd didn't have a nice first year or that he's a lousy coach, but I think it was too much, too soon for him. Which is why he's taking a "step back" and heading to Milwaukee, where he'll have one, maybe two traveling beat writers and very few expectations in the first few years of his contract.
Thanks to Tom for providing his thoughts on Livingston. For more reactions from Brooklyn fans, check out their post about Livingston over at Nets Daily.