Isaiah Livers has been among the most pleasant surprises for the Detroit Pistons so far in Summer League, and I know we have a piece upcoming focused on Livers as the potential starting power forward as part of our “Who’s the 4?” series via Matt Way.
While that is a worthy conversation, what interested me most about Livers’ performance so far is all the little things he’s doing that have fans so excited. For this film study, I started at the beginning of NBA Summer League with the sole intention of evaluating his overall game and what he brings to the Pistons as a second-round pick just a year ago.
Livers senior season at the University of Michigan was cut short due to a foot injury that also carried over into the beginning of his rookie season with the Pistons. He made his NBA debut in late February with a modest 6-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets. Livers would end up playing 19 games with Detroit to finish out the season showing the makings of what could be a NBA rotation player.
After finishing those 19 games averaging 11.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and shooting 42% from 3 on 6 attempts per 36, I went into the off season very intrigued by the No. 42 overall pick. I was extremely excited to get a glimpse of him during Summer League and he did not disappoint. The small sample size has left me, as well as others, believing he not only has a major opportunity to be a part of the rotation this season but also to see significant minutes.
I touched on the shooting a little bit already, and the film breakdown will dive even a little deeper, but what I really enjoy about Livers is his ability to be a “connector.” Having now become one of those buzzwords when discussing NBA Draft prospects and current NBA players, what does “connector” even mean? For me, we are talking about the ultimate unselfish player who consistently makes the “one more” pass, NEVER stops the ball, and keeps the flow of the offense going. Essentially, the exact type of player you want alongside the likes of Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jaden Ivey, and Killian Hayes. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact, and when he does get the ball, he will either shoot (and make at over a 40% clip) or make the immediate next play.
With that said, if there is a negative to his offensive game it is that there will not be much, if any, creativity and creation with the ball in his hands or as a pick-and-roll ball handler. I do highlight his ability to attack closeouts at times to get into a mid-range jumper or pressure the defense for a drive and kick, but those do not appear often. He is a low-usage player as a pick-and-roll ball handler and looking back at the limited reps in college he also was not very efficient.
I can’t help but wonder if he is viable as a pick-and-roll player on the short roll at times. We also already see him set a lot of “ghost” ball screens on the perimeter to create confusion and the potential for a drive for his teammate or an open shot for himself. Having the ability to complement those “ghost” screens with the occasional short roll would be a great addition to his repertoire.
If I am being completely honest, the defensive side of the ball is where I really enjoy watching Livers play. I don’t think he is going to be a lockdown on-ball defender, but you know you will get his best effort (and usually multiple efforts) on every possession. What I think he does the best falls in line with the connector piece we talked about offensively.
Livers does a great job of communicating, making rotations, being aware, and executing the all-important for a switch heavy team, “scram switches” (examples and explained in the video). He may not be the guy that you put on the other team’s best perimeter offensive player, though I think he would take the challenge. He may not be a guy that protects the rim or disrupts an offense with a bunch of steals, although we have seen him do it at times. But he can be the glue around the defensive pieces that can do that and be a major impact on what will hopefully become an all around good defensive unit for the Pistons.
As you can tell from the article, and the video, Isaiah Livers is a player I have become very high on. While he may not have the highest of upsides and might be somewhat limited with his all around offensive game, I do think he can turn out to be an important rotation piece for this team moving forward. Troy Weaver getting that level of contribution from a second-round pick (acquired in the trade that sent Derrick Rose to the Knicks) would be another nice selection by Troy Weaver. I am very excited to see what Livers can showcase in a full, and healthy, 82 game season this year for Detroit.