June 24, 2004 was likely one of the happiest days in the life of Shaun Livingston. On that night, he was the 4th overall pick, and the first PG selected in the NBA draft. The 6’7” pass first, shoot second true point guard with the 7′ wingspan had some comparing him with Magic Johnson. In 2007, during arguably his best season, Livingston suffered a terrible knee dislocation that sidetracked a potentially very promising career. Three years and three teams later, Livingston is on the second 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards.
Once it became clear that Mike James was not going to remain with the team, it became clear that the Wizards would need to pick up another point guard. The Wizards were fortunate enough to pick up Livingston, who had played earlier in the season with Oklahoma City.
Livingston gives this current roster its second true point guard – the other being Earl Boykins. While Boykins seems to be best suited providing energy off the bench. He does tend to be a shoot first, pass second point guard. In addition to Livingston’s passing ability, his height is also an asset. He is able to post up and comfortably shoot over smaller guards. When he has gotten a chance to play he has played well. His unique combination of skills has defenses fits as he has gotten into the lane creating easier scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Wizards have 20 games remaining in this season, they should have seen enough from Livingston to know that warrants a longer look – picking him up for the remainder of the season. While Flip Saunders wants to win as many games as he can, it is also important to develop his young players in the process. Shaun Livingston should be an important component in the team’s short and long-term development.
While it has been three years since his injury, Shaun Livingston is still recovering. He has played in less than 40 NBA games since his rehabilitation. If Livingston can continue to work himself back into peak condition the Wizards may have gotten very lucky. It is very likely that Livingston will never fully attain what was his full potential. However, at 24 years of age he is still a young guy with upside potential. The fact is that he can be very effective even if he does not get fully back to where he seemed to be going as a player.
He has demonstrated with limited minutes that he can still create plays for his teammates. And at this stage in the season, it is much more important to allow him to work himself into shape – while on the floor. It does not help this team’s development by playing Earl Boykins for extended minutes. Flip Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld both know what Boykins can provide the team and more to the point he is not a part of the long-term future of this team. They should give Livingston as much time as his body can handle.
If he continues to improve, the Wizards have potentially found a guy, in Livingston, who can be their second string point guard. If they are really lucky, he could develop into a guy who can play in the back-court with Gilbert Arenas. It is important though that the Wizards let that process begin now. The first step in that process is picking up Livingston’s contract for the remainder of the year and then giving him an extended look on the court.
I will admit that given all this kid has gone through in his young career, I would like to see his career get back on track. I would like nothing better than for this kid to develop into an all-star caliber player. And if Livingston is on the verge of getting some semblance of his career back on track, I hope the Wizards are smart enough to spot that now and take a chance – an inexpensive chance at that – on a guy who had NBA draft lottery talent. At the very least, he appears to be the best point guard they currently have on their roster.