A basic Google or YouTube search for Shaun Livingston a decade ago would’ve highlighted the fast track of a rising star, but now, the search produces heart wrenching results. Type in “Shaun Livingston,” and it won’t be long before a video of his horrific knee injury (Warning: Graphic) from 2007 appears.
He missed the rest of that season and the entire 2007-08 season, never playing another game for the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted him out of Peoria Central High School (IL) with the fourth overall pick. He played in 48 games the next two seasons with three different teams. After years of heartbreak and rebuilding, on his now ninth NBA team, Livingston has finally changed up his narrative.
People will continue to ask “what if” when it comes to Livingston, who was only 21 when he hurt his knee, but now he has a chance to be a key cog on a championship team.
He was underrated last year with the Brooklyn Nets, having perhaps the best season of his career, finishing with a career high 14.52 PER. He started in 54 games and played in 76, both career-highs.
This season with Golden State he’s stepped up his game once again and added another career-high, playing in 78 games. This isn’t just a feel good story either; Livingston is a versatile, talented player who happens to back up the MVP of the league, Stephen Curry.
He is a low-usage player who uses his gigantic 6’7” frame as a weapon on both ends of the floor. He’s one of the best post scorers among guards in the league, and per Synergy, led the Warriors with 99 points in the post during the regular season. According to SportsVU, he shot an incredible 30-49 on fadeaways, making him a nightmare matchup for opposing point guards off the bench.
The two green areas across the baseline just outside the paint were his most frequent post-scoring areas.
There’s no question Livingston is most valuable on the defensive end. Per SportsVU, players shot 3.5% worse when defended by Livingston during the regular season. In the playoffs, those numbers have skyrocketed, with players shooting 14.6% worse when defended by Livingston. The logical conclusion drawn from those numbers is that he plays for the best defensive unit in the league, but even when comparing his defensive numbers to Curry in the postseason, Livingston still supplants him with a +12.1 differential on the defensive end.
He has improved his all-around game in the postseason, shooting 62.2% from the field playing an efficient, mistake-free game. Livingston is averaging 10.7 points and 4.0 rebounds shooting 70.6% against Houston in the Western Conference Finals, including putting up 18-7-3 shooting 6-8 from the field in a pivotal Game 1 win.
Barring a drastic collapse, Golden State is slated to meet Cleveland in the finals, and Livingston will play a role in their title hopes. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Warriors run more small-ball against the Cavaliers, with Livingston getting some time next to Curry. Livingston will likely lock up with the feisty Matthew Dellavedova, but he should get plenty of time as a defensive stopper against the hobbled Kyrie Irving. His efficient offensive game and steady defensive presence will be even more vital going forward.
Livingston is no longer a superstar in the making, but he’s playing the most important basketball of his career as one of the seasoned veterans on a young, surging potential title team. Still only 29, with one tragic injury and a gluttony of others behind him, Livingston still has his best basketball ahead of him. And perhaps a well-deserved NBA ring.