Shaun Livingston resurrects his career with Brooklyn Nets


(Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Several milestones were recorded this past week in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers extended their franchise-record losing streak to 22 games and the New York Knicks became the first team in the last 10 years to win seven straight games immediately after a seven-game losing streak.

Perhaps overlooked in those notable feats was the one celebrated by Brooklyn Nets guard Shaun Livingston. In the team’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Livingston set a career high for minutes played (1,617) and points scored (506) in a season.

The marks broke the previous highs set by Livingston during the 2006-07 season, when he suffered a gruesome knee injury that left most wondering if he’d ever play again. And as Livingston — who previously played two brief, separate stints for the Wizards – has reached an unexpected personal best, he’s helped the Nets re-emerge as a playoff contender following a slow start.

Livingston’s one-year, veteran-minimum contract accounts for about $884,000 of Brooklyn’s $102.3 million payroll. But he has helped lead the Nets to a 25-10 record since entering the starting lineup in a Jan. 2 win against Oklahoma City, pushing the Nets into the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 playoff seed entering Thursday’s games.

Despite playing shooting guard, offense isn’t a priority for Livingston with Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams playing alongside him. But the long-armed ninth-year veteran makes his impact felt on defense, according to NBA.com/stats.

In addition to Livingston’s career-high average of 1.2 steals through 65 games, the Nets’ defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) soars from 101.7 to 106.3 when he’s on the bench. Livingston also helps create more offensive opportunities, as Brooklyn forces its opponents into 8.8 turnovers when he’s on the floor and just 7.5 when he’s not.

On the first day of the calendar year, the Nets were 10-21 and performing well below expectations for a team boasting four all-stars in Johnson, Pierce, Williams and Kevin Garnett. And while the improved health of Williams and more consistent play from Johnson and Garnett have played roles in Brooklyn’s turnaround since then, Livingston’s presence in the starting lineup is the one constant.

Entering Thursday’s games, Brooklyn’s is shooting better (52.2 effective field goal percentage), forcing more turnovers per 100 possessions (19.0) and holding its opponents to a lower effective field goal percentage (50.0) than it was in the 31 games prior to January 1.

Nets defensive stats before Jan. 1

Games Def. rating Opp. TO ratio Opp. eFG%
31 106.7 15.0 51.1

Nets defensive stats after Jan. 1

Games Def. rating Opp. TO ratio Opp. eFG%
35 101.5 19.0 50.0

*Through March 19, 2014; Source: NBA.com/stats with SAP

The Nets’ improved defensive prowess has translated to the scoreboard. After yielding a net rating of minus-4.8, meaning they were outscored by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, Brooklyn’s defensive rating has improved from 106.7 to 101.5 since January 1, making for a net rating of plus-3.5.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out in a recent article, with Livingston measuring in “as a 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, [he] is the embodiment of Brooklyn’s new identity. He can smother opposing guards and switch onto forwards.”

Livingston’s defensive ability provides a welcome complement for Williams, whose string of ankle injuries has magnified some of his struggles in guarding the league’s top point guards.

When Livingston jumped straight from high school to the NBA in 2004, the intrigue surrounding the lanky teenager was his ability to make his teammates better. Almost 10 years, one devastating knee injury and eight teams later, Livingston is doing that, only now, he’s doing it with defense.

BY THE NUMBERS
700
Weight in pounds of a 3-D billboard hung by the Atlanta Hawks along Interstate 85. The ad features an image of Hawks forward Paul Millsap dunking and encourages viewers to enter a contest offering prizes such as spending time with Millsap at a summer league game in Las Vegas.

1
Spurs player, Kawhi Leonard at 30.3, averaging more than 30 minutes per game during San Antonio’s 11-game win streak entering Thursday’s games. The Spurs’ depth has allowed the team to pace aging stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker before the playoffs.

QUOTABLES
“It just creates that much more of an opportunity for our marketing partners to get that much closer to our fans and to our players. It gives us an opportunity just to have deeper integration when it comes to those forms of sponsorship.”

– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to an audience at IMG World Congress of Sports on Wednesday while discussing his belief that NBA jerseys will likely don sponsors’ logos in the next five years.

“I have no problem committing to saying Carmelo [Anthony] is in the future plans. There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward. And as great as a player Carmelo is, he still has another level to get to.”

–Phil Jackson during his introductory news conference as the New York Knicks team president, on Tuesday.

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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