Shaun Livingston: 76 G, 54 GS, 26.0 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.22 SPG, 0.41 BPG, .483 FG% .167 3P%, .827 FT%, 14.52 PER, 3.5 EWA
It was odd, at times uncomfortable, watching Shaun Livingston and Deron Williams on the floor together. Not because of any on-court issues: the two were a devastating two-way tandem on the court together, and appeared to like each other just fine. But it was jarring to watch the two players in the same backcourt, as their respective stocks whizzed in opposite directions.
On one side, Williams was scapegoated for Brooklyn’s underperformance more with every bad turnover and hesitant drive. On the other was Livingston, whose mere presence elevated the Nets to a defensive juggernaut, who spun his way into the hearts of fans with a near-unblockable short jumper and threw down more dunks than anyone on the team not named Mason Plumlee.
He led the league — not just guards, the whole freaking NBA — in points per possession in the post, thanks to a surprising array of moves and his incredible length advantage (6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan) over most of his assignments. He picked a career-high seven steals in one game. He showed off a surprising basketball IQ and nearly led NBA point guards in blocks per 100 possessions. He set career-highs across the board, when he should’ve hit those numbers years ago.
He wasn’t perfect: he struggled without Williams to flank him in the backcourt, he still can’t hit three-pointers, and was one of the team’s worst shooters on point-blank shots.
But Livingston’s tale was of hope. He’d seen physical hell, but he didn’t make it back, he pushed beyond it. It was terrifying and gratifying and refreshing all at once. I cringed every time Livingston rose in traffic, without exception, and kept an eye on his legs as he safely landed. I winced whenever he hit the floor in pain. Because even seven years after one of the NBA’s most horrifying in-game injuries, even after the surgeries and physical therapy, the mental scars hadn’t healed yet.
Now, Shaun Livingston’s tale moves forward. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and after a season that should’ve netted him “Comeback Player of the Year” if the award still existed, he’ll have suitors willing to pay him more than Brooklyn can afford. Brooklyn would welcome him back with open arms, but there’s a good chance he’s earned a bigger contract than they’re able to pay.
But we’ll always have this year, the year Shaun Livingston became whole again. That happened in Brooklyn. Nothing can take that time away.