Oklahoma City News, Entertainment & Occasional Humor • Established 2007

Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Ushering in the Livingston Era

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WARNING:  Do not watch the video above unless you have a strong stomach.

I am an amateur General Manager.  Normally, when I make a half-baked roster suggestion, I have no hope that it will ever occur.  When I suggested on a message board last year that the (then) Sonics should take a flyer on Gerald Green or in a column that Earl Watson be traded for a sack of potato chips, they were just the ramblings of a novice.

So when I wrote the following, I had no actual inclination that it would come to light:

Roster Change Proposal of the Week:  Sign Shaun Livingston

As of today, the Thunder’s emergency point guard is Kyle Weaver.  And if the team ever succeeds in trading Earl Watson, Weaver would be the primary back up to Russell Westbrook.  Nothing against Weaver, but if he is running the offense, the Thunder will be spending a lot of time playing defense.  The guy just really sucks at dribbling the ball”“and some people think that point guards should be able to do that pretty well.

Even when I wrote this:

Sign Shaun Livingston

Does anyone really think that Earl Watson or Chucky Atkins are doing anything for this team?  Atkins is likely to be cut before training camp next season because only $800K of his salary for next season is guaranteed.  And if we could get someone to trade for Earl Watson, he’d be gone.  So, the Thunder need to be seeking other avenues to shore up the point guard position.

Livingston is a low-risk, high-reward player.  The Thunder would pay him league minimum, or even just sign him to 10-day contracts.  And if it turns out his knee can hold up and he can return to anything close to the player he was expected to be out of high school, they have the inside track on locking him up.  If not, then they cut him.

Apparently, Sam Presti reads my columns.  On March 7, the Thunder-owned Developmental League team (Tulsa 66ers) signed Livingston.  Then earlier this week, the Thunder signed him to an NBA contract and called him up to the team.  He was with the Thunder during Tuesday night’s win over San Antonio, although he did not suit up.

Now, as adamant as I have been about Livingston coming to Oklahoma City, I have no visions that he will play a role that will challenge Kevin Durant for the title of the team’s best player.  And, he probably won’t be the starting point guard for the first Thunder team to win an NBA championship.  He could, however, provide something the team needs.

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As a matter of trivia, Shaun Livingston was the first point guard to jump directly from high school to the pros.  When he was selected with the 4th pick of the 2004 NBA draft, the Clippers anticipated that he would be their floor general of the future.  Despite the height of a forward, Livingston maintained an uncanny ability to handle the basketball and fantastic floor vision, aided by the fact that he was a head taller than most players who guarded him. 

His first few seasons in the league were used for development.  Even point guards with four years of college experience typically struggle to come in and make an immediate impact.  Livingston had to learn the game at its highest level, and overcome the frail frame that resulted from the blessing (and curse) his height presented.  After his rookie season, he went under the tutelage of Sam Cassell who started for the Clippers and helped them to become a playoff team.  Shaun showed significant promise during the playoffs of his sophomore season, and was putting up the best number of his career when the wheels, literally, fell off.

If you have the stomach, watch the video at the beginning of this column.  Livingston’s knee twisted and bent sideways.  Every ligament in his knee had to be repaired/replaced, and eventually, he had to re-learn how to walk.  The prognosis for ever playing basketball again was bleak.

The thing is, he’s only 24 years old.  He has time to recover, and luckily, his primary abilities were not tied to him having freakish athleticism.  The court vision, passing craftiness, and basketball IQ were unaffected.  Just watch the highlight video that appears right after the jump.  Doing his thing does not require him to have freakish leaping ability.

After a two year layoff, Livingston was back in the NBA sitting the pine for the Miami Heat when the season began.  Unfortunately for him, the Heat elevated to a playoff contender leaving little playing time for a guy who was still, again literally, getting his legs back beneath him.  Miami needed a player both more established and more physically reliable.  Shaun was cut to make room for such players.

Of course, the Thunder are not so handcuffed.  Guaranted to end the season with wins somewhere in the twenties, they have plenty of room for a player in Livingston’s situation.  Wins and losses are little more than vanity statistics for the team and fans.  Over the remainder of the season, the team has the luxury of trying out players who need experience but have abilities that could pan out in the long run.

That’s why Presti sprung to action now.  He could have waited until the Summer League and hoped that Livingston would agree to play for the Thunder, then.  That would have been a risk, though.  With another four months of strengthening done to his knee, Livingston, a player once expected to be a young Magic Johnson, could have been a hot commodity.  With a “multi year” contract given this late in the campaign, the promising point guard is likely earning a pro rated portion of the league minimum and will still have to make the team come training camp if he intends to collect any money from the “multi year” portion of the deal.

If it works out as hoped, though, two of my dreams will be realized.  One, Earl Watson and his overly high expiring contract can be freely shopped.  And two, if Livingston turns out to be capable of logging starter minutes, Russell Westbrook can be taken off the ball.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Russell Westbrook is a great talent and should be a valuable part of the team’s core for years to come.  All season, I have compared him to a young Tony Parker because few players are as fast without the ball as Westbrook is with it.  The problem is that every time I watch Westbrook charge toward the basket with two teammates trailing him and I see him take a contested finger roll at the basket, I get very little satisfaction watching him head to the free throw line for two.  A point guard, which is what Westbrook masquerades as, would drop it off to one of his trailers for a crowd pumping slam dunk.  And don’t get me started on Westbrook’s complete disregard for the pick and roll.

Of course, suggesting Westbrook get moved to the shooting guard position (or more accurately, a combo guard role like Speedy Claxton played in the Hornets’ first season here) where his playing mentality fits better, gets responded to with derision.  I’m told that the 6’3″ Westbrook is too short to play the off guard (ignoring that the just mentioned Claxton played plenty of time there despite being 5’11″).  With Livingston and his 6’7″ height and 6’11″ wing span running the point, though, an undersized shooting guard is not a liability.  Plus, Livingston’s skill set is exactly what Westbrook lacks.  They are a perfect yin and yang in the back court.

Then again, none of this is high in probability.  The most likely outcome is that Livingston never regains the form he exhibited prior to the injury, or the Thunder luck into the number 2 spot in the draft and take Ricky Rubio making Shaun’s presence unnecessary.  For the time being, though, I like to think this is a genius move.

Here’s hoping.

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Comments

  1. Claxton’s career stats: 9 pts per game. Awesome. Match-ups matter in baskets.

  2. Basketball statistics can be extremely misleading. Claxton has averaged 9 points per game for his career. So? He’s only started about 1/3 of his career games and averaged about 25 minutes. Based on that 9 ppg is actually pretty good, especially for a 5’11″ shooting guard.

    That being said, my point wasn’t that Speedy was a good player, but that if he could be effective at shooting guard paired with a guy who is supposedly 6’0″ at the point, that Westbrook at 6’3″ should have no problem. Especially since the prototypical SG is around 6’6″, not 7’3″, and hangs out at the three point line, not in the lane.

  3. Clark, Clark, Clark! Where do I begin with this?

    First off, thanks to Stranger for commenting first, so I don’t look like the eager-beaver basketball freak I really am–so thanks!

    Secondly, I am going to defend Weaver and the quote “The guy just really sucks at dribbling the ball”“and some people think that point guards should be able to do that pretty well.” is just WRONG! Over the month of March, he has shown an amazing ability to come in (as a rookie mind you) and run the offense or play the off-guard role. There were numerous instances of this in just the last game against the Spurs!

    Thirdly, if one of your dreams is to get Westbrook “off the ball” then I would respectfully suggest that you re-evaluate your dreams. MY dreams, (aside from winning the lottery and retiring in the Cayman Islands) include Russell Westbrook fullfilling his God-given potential for point guard GREATNESS! He has all the natural qualities that can’t be taught, and the drive and determination (IMO from the not-so-cheap seats) to learn the floor vision and game-control that he needs to be a truly miraculous point guard!

    Fourthly, moving Russ to the two takes precious minutes away from my newest, favorite Thunderer–Thabo Sefolosha! Every two-bit high school basketball coach in the country is REQUIRED to sign a contract that they will use the phrase, “Defense wins ballgames!” no less than one hundred times a day or risk having their short-shorts and black socks revoked!

    I think I will stop there, but I invite you over to http://www.dailythunder.com where we can discuss this at (even greater) length!!

  4. I had forgotten how devastating that knee injury was. Just brutal especially for just coming down on it wrong. However, Livingston was highly regarded coming out of high school and a lottery pick (not that guarantees anything). If his knee can hold up and he’s able to contribute this could be very good for us.

  5. [...] The Lost Ogle on Shaun Livingston: “The thing is, he’s only 24 years old.  He has time to recover, and luckily, his primary abilities were not tied to him having freakish athleticism.  The court vision, passing craftiness, and basketball IQ were unaffected.  Just watch the highlight video that appears right after the jump.  Doing his thing does not require him to have freakish leaping ability.” [...]

  6. I think Westbrook’s potential at the lead guard is limited by a lack of desire to do what a lead guard does. His abilities are incredible, the only way to stop him once he has a head of steam is to foul him or hope he blows the layup, his dunks ignite the crowd (or conversely quiets them down) and he has the potential to be a lock down defender. but he’s not the type of guy who makes his teammates better, which is the one thing I expect from a point guard. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s looking for the best way to break down his defender, not whether Durant is cutting to the basket or if Nenad is open for the pick and pop.

    If he were an off-guard, I wouldn’t criticize that mentality at all. Durant has an alpha scorer philosophy, and I praise him for it. The problem is that the offense doesn’t get initiated by Durant. A guy like Livingston (just as Chris Paul did and a guy like Rubio will do) shoots out of necessity when nothing else is available. As a result, he makes the sum of the whole better than the parts. Right now, with Westbrook in control, I think the team is only as good as the guy holding the ball.

    Weaver is fine off the ball, too. But he scares me when he dribbles. If he’s running the offense, the opposing defenses have to do nothing more than guard him the length of the floor to completely discombobulate the whole team. They’re in panic mode the whole time because Weaver is spending all his effort just to get the offense started and once it does, the shot clock is already winding down.

  7. “a lack of desire to do what a lead guard does…” I just really don’t agree with that at all! Westbrook had not been “brought up” as a point guard in high school or even college because he is such a freak athletically. He is learning the hardest, most mentally challenging role on the floor, AND he is learning it live as a starter! That is like taking a gifted medical student and telling them, “From now on, you are a brain surgeon, and you better learn quick, because your patient is bleeding to death from an aneurysm! Now here’s the scalpel–GO!!” Sure he MIGHT save the guy, but he is going to lose a lot of blood while he figures it out.

    Brooks is the perfect coach for Westbrook to learn how to be a point guard from, he just needs time to do it.

  8. If the Thunder get the second pick in the draft they better take Theebet, assuming Griffen goes first overall. That would be sweet redemption for backing out of the Chandler deal.

  9. Girlballer…you know why Westbrook wasn’t brought up to be a point guard in high school or college? He doesn’t exhibit the instinct to play the position. If Brooks turns him into a true point guard, I’ll be impressed.

  10. @ Clark- You will be impressed, and we will be in the playoffs! A smart point guard who is physically strong enough to take a beating going inside, night in and night out is as rare as a true 7-footer with an good 18″ jump shot! Might I remind you what Shaun Livingston was doing in that famous video?

  11. BTW–They have our Westbrook debate going hot-n-heavy over at dailythunder right now—Russell Westbrook: Logical thinking vs. intuition–

    I am so not getting any work done right now (Grr)

  12. Westbrook is turning into a decent player considering he doesn’t have a natural position in the NBA. I don’t understand the fascination with him, though.

    Since we’re playing GM, I’d dump him as soon as I could land a couple of prototypical guards.

    If you really want him to be a midget 2 guard, he’s got a learning curve as well. He’s shooting .420 from 2 pt range and .280 from 3 range.

  13. Never was a big fan of Shawn Bradley and think the comparison is waaaaay off. I see Thabeet as more of a Tyson Chandler type player who’s value is measured in defense and rebounds more than offense. I think that the Thunder have the offensive section of their team in place and lacks a big man who can lock down the paint for years to come. What is it that you see that I’m not seeeing?

  14. Because I am who I am, I looked up the thirty starting shooting guards in the league. Fourteen are exactly 6’6″ (which became the prototypical shooting guard height strictly because that is how tall Michael Jordan stands). Six are taller with the tallest being Mike Dunleavy at 6’9″. Ten are shorter. Ironically, of those taller, only Ronnie Brewer who is 6’7″ uses his height to any kind of advantage. The rest are almost strictly jump shooters.

    The shorter guys, who include Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson (the shortest at a questionable 6’0″), Jason Terry, O.J. Mayo, Randy Foye, and Brandon Roy, tend to play similarly to Russell Westbrook.

    That noted, A) would Westbrook really be giving up much height, and B) would it matter?

  15. LOL@Clark. There’s a reason you try and match-up with the competition including in terms of measurables. But, like I said, even if he’s at the 2 and his height isn’t a limiting factor (despite people being able to see over him and shoot over him) his shooting percentages are terrible.

    Wade isn’t a great outside shooter but shoots a much better percentage than Westbrook from 2 range. It would be nice if your shooting guard could shoot the ball, though. In fact, Wade has one of the top shooting percentages at his position. Westbrook isn’t even in the top 50.

  16. Compare Wade as a rookie to Westbrook now, and it’s more comparable. Getting Westbrook off the ball so that the point guard could decide when it was a good time for Westbrook to do his thing would probably improve those percentages, also.

    I’d like a shooting guard who can shoot, also, which is why I have advocated acquiring J.J. Redick. Until a guy like that ends up on the roster, though, Westbrook would be our best offensive player at the two.

    Are shooting guards among the league leaders in blocked shots and I don’t know it? Because it seems to me that at least a third of the shooting guards in the league are “midgets” by your definition and are being guarded by normal heighted twos.

  17. Win the draft lotto or trade for the number one spot or watch them become the Kansas City Thunder. Livingston doesn’t matter in the long term success. They might as well go get Sebastian Telfair to play the point if they’re gonna get Livingston.

  18. Clark, your analogy to post play is played out. But it applies in a way you haven’t thought about, as you’ll read below.

    Let’s talk real world here. The Thunder play in the Western Conference and your talking about trying to get the team in the playoffs in a year or two. Run down the rosters of Western Conference guards on playoff teams. Which one of those guards is Westbrook on par with? And since stats lie, according to you, don’t bring me the season averages and don’t tell me he’s a rookie. You think this team can make the playoffs in a year or two, fine, Westbrook’s got some growing up to do and quick.

    Your in luck in two cases: the Spurs look old and the Mavs might get blown up.

    Otherwise, tell me how Westbrook matches up with…say…Kobe Bryant…cause we’re going to the playoffs remember…Westbrook will probably see that dude there. I watched the Lakers play the Rockets the other night and here’s what he did when he had a smaller player on him…post that guy up and score…elevate and shoot over him and score…take him to the hole and dunk on him.

    • I really didn’t read the other comments, but isn’t using Kobe Bryant as an example kind of silly. He is one the three best players in the world, right?

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