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Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston: A Tale of Two Point Guards

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A look into the wildly contrasting styles of two Golden State Warriors point guards.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I asked my wife, a huge Stephen Curry fan, what words come to mind when she thinks of him.

She started rattling off, “Leader, humble, entertaining...”

I interrupted, “What about his game?”

She replied, “Shooter. Great shooter. No, amazing shooter. Awesome handles.”

My guess is, this isn’t far off from what most people would say about Curry. And you could easily add his court vision, basketball IQ, and passing onto the list.

Then I asked, “What about Shaun Livingston’s game?” and she paused for a second before saying, “Reliable back-up. Smart player.” She added slyly, “My husband is all about him.”

Ain’t love grand?

Livingston—not the star Curry is—typically doesn’t garner the same immediate and emphatic praise as Steph. And rightfully so, seeing as how Curry is such an immense talent. But Sdot is undeniably one of the most unique point guards in the league

Listed at 6-foot-7-inches, Livingston towers over opposing point guards and has the ability to defend three positions. On the other end of floor, he utilizes his size advantage by implementing a solid post game with a reliable turnaround jumper. He’s a master of the midrange, and when playing off the ball, he’s particularly effective cutting along the baseline for easy layups and dunks.

And while you see point guards occasionally eke out a dunk when they have a wide-open lane, Livingston can throw down, even when challenged. Case-in-point, his dunk over Richard Jefferson in the I-want-to-forget-this-game-but-this-dunk-was-so-awesome Game 5 of last season’s NBA Finals.

The difference between Curry and Livingston is made abundantly clear when we look at each player’s Point Guard Personality Chart (PGPC). Seth Partnow wrote about the PGPC as an indicator of style of play. It’s based off the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which uses four dichotomies to evaluate personal characteristics. As adopted for point guards, the four dichotomies are:

  • Shoot First versus Pass First
  • Driving versus Probing
  • On-ball versus Off-ball
  • Floor Spacer versus Non-shooter

You can read an in-depth explanation of these categories here.

A redditor used Partnow’s method to calculate and create PGPCs for 78 players that played over 500 minutes as a point guard in the 2015-2016 season.

First, let’s look at Curry’s chart:

Nothing is particularly surprising here. As an elite shooter, Curry’s PGPC skews towards being a shoot-first, floor-spacing point guard. Keep in mind, while this chart is meant to indicate style, not aptitude, the Floor Spacer versus Non-shooter dichotomy does give us an indication of how well a player shoots. As a result, with Curry’s extreme shooting range, the chart plunges to the southern point.

Now take a look at Livingston’s chart:

Right off the bat you can see that there’s something different about Livingston compared to Curry and most other point guards. Looking at the grid view of all the different PGPCs, you can see most have a chart that features some form of a diamond shape. But with Livingston, his chart is essentially an unflattering triangle. A polar opposite to Curry, Livingston’s refusal / inability to shoot 3s essentially nullifies his floor spacing according to his PGPC.

There are several other point guards who lack the ability to space the floor because of poor shooting, but they almost always make up for that with another style of point guard play. For example, Rajon Rondo has almost the opposite chart from Curry, as Rondo is a notoriously poor-shooting, pass-first, on-ball player who relies on driving the lane.

Livingston, however, doesn’t seem to conform well to any of the four dichotomies. As the chart tells it, Livingston is a non-shooting, non-driving, off-ball, pass-first point guard. That doesn’t sound particularly appealing. But for anyone who watches the Warriors, Livingston’s value is unquestioned, particularly on defense, which the chart doesn’t take into account. But besides defense, the reason it’s difficult to encapsulate Livingston’s point guard personality is because he doesn’t play like a point guard. In the ESPN.com TrueHoop article, “73 Reasons to Love the Warriors,” Livingston is quoted as saying he plays like a pineapple upside-down cake; in other words, his game is inverted.

Check out this highlight reel from the series-clinching game against the Houston Rockets from last season’s playoffs:

With Curry out, Livingston was inserted into the starting lineup. Despite him starting as point guard, many plays were run using Draymond Green as the primary ball handler. In those instances, Livingston lingered and hovered around the key, sneaking in behind the defense at opportune moments. This allowed him to be the recipient of dump-offs from penetrating players. This is the action you would typically desire from a center or forward.

By contrast, when Curry plays off the ball, he’s constantly in motion, running through a myriad of picks set by his teammates with the goal of getting the ball behind the arc.

When Livingston does bring the ball down the court, oftentimes he will turn his back to the basket as soon as he crosses the 3-point line. Here, he can initiate the offense by either passing out to an open perimeter player or backing down his opponent. In addition to his height, Livingston’s release is so high above his head, it makes it difficult for opposing point guards to challenge his shot. Add any kind of fadeaway action to that shot and it’s damn near unblockable.

Again, this is a stark contrast from how Curry operates with the ball. Curry will initiate his offense the moment he steps into range, which for him is the bottom of the half-court logo. His accuracy from long range stretches defenses so thin that he has a number of viable offensive options. He can beat his man off the dribble, penetrate and kick, run the pick-and-roll, fake a drive and step back, etc. The list goes on. And best believe he’s more than just a shooter.

Having both Curry and Livingston provides a duality in point guard play that is fairly unique in the league and should continue to pay dividends for the Warriors as they chase another title in the upcoming year. If nothing else, the PGPCs for these two show that with Curry’s unreal shooting and Livingston’s unorthodox inside presence you can’t put either of them in a box... err... diamond?