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Taking ‘Em to Secondary School Lecture 4: Gold Stars

“I had two careers. It felt like two lives.”

– Shaun Livingston


What is there to say about the secondary players from Golden State? You can say Golden State is the deepest team in NBA history, which is a reason they could edge out the Bulls as the ‘Best team ever’. You could say that the Warriors bench (and their whole team) is full of guys with a chip on their shoulder.  You could say that the bench has kept this team from losing on nights where Curry has been less than stellar.  

I am going to say that Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are perfect subjects to demonstrate all of these points.

grant_g_livingston01jr_57611Shaun Livingston was the 4th pick of the 2004 NBA Draft. A unique blend of skill and athleticism, Livingston started his career as  a project who, in addition to his unquestionable physical gifts, showed the ability to play within himself and assess defenses.  Unfortunately, he was never able to string together enough games to fully develop, missing nearly half of his first two seasons.  Then, in the midst of his breakout third season (2007) and the best season in Clippers history (at the time), he experienced an injury that would alter the course of his career and perhaps NBA history.

It’s easy to forget how explosive Livingston was, and easier to forget if he was able to reach his current level of skill without an injury that could have lost him his leg, we could be throwing his name around in the top 10-15 player conversation.  Going beyond hypotheticals, we can look at the how Livingston made his way to the Warriors. Following his return from injury Livingston bounced around the NBA, determined to re-assert his value despite the odds.  Early on, his return was a flop, following a series of trades involving low value players and ostensibly ending with the final blow -being waived by the Washington Wizards in 2012.

In the second year of the failed experiment Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Deron Williams, the Nets, now a pit of decreasing hope, decided to take a chance on Livingston.  Livingston’s encouraging stint on the Nets revitalized his career and provided hope to the depressing Nets, who were otherwise a draft pick-less purgatory.  Brooklyn steadily increased Livingston’s minutes due to the fact that their defense was 8.5 points per possession better with him on the floor.

Shaun-Livingston-Living-a-Miracle-in-BrooklynLivingston’s scoring was not of the charts, but he’s good at what he does and forces players to respect his post game and savvy driving. He was able to create offense for his teammates in areas where Deron Williams wasn’t respected as a threat.  Golden State was likely salivating over Livingston all year; a heavy analytical team, the Warriors were wondering how to replicate the offensive stability of Jarrett Jack while limiting the debilitating defensive/ dumb shot choice downside he brought at the backup pg position.

Queue his stint with the Warriors: Livingston provides a system shock when Curry leaves the floor.  At the start of the second quarter, as the Warriors transitioned into their second unit, they went from an elite shooting slight guard who excels at dropping bombs from anywhere, to a 6’7 point guard who excels at turnaround jumpers, post moves, and defense.  Golden State won 73 by utilizing multiple ball movers on offense, and flexible defenders on defense: Livingston served a key role to this architecture.  The Warriors’ roster flexibility at 2-4 gave Steve Kerr the opportunity to utilize all of Livingston’s strengths while avoiding his weaknesses. In 2014-2015, he was obviously a key factor to winning a championship. But 2016 is what matters, and 2016 was, in many ways, the full actualization of his comeback.

In the 2015-2016 Livingston’s role evolved; in fact, the Warriors outscored opponents by an average of 2.3 points per game when he was on the court. Against the league’s best teams — San Antonio, Cleveland and Oklahoma City — Livingston averaged 10.2 points on 74.3 percent shooting and the Warriors outscored their opponents by 8.3 points per game while he was on the court.  He averaged 71% on shots at the rim, and per Synergy Sports Tech on Twitter: “Shaun Livingston is shooting 57% on turnaround jump shots in the post, 62% on floaters, 60% finishing, & 45% on pull up jumpers, this season”.  Statistically, there is a case that Livingston could be a starter on some teams (I’m looking at you, Bucks), and then on the 5th day he did start in the mother fucking  playoffs and… it was good.

Livingston filled in for the injured Curry, and the Warriors seamlessly continued being very, very good.  It’s difficult to imagine another backup who could fill in for their MVP starter and produce in vital minutes for a critical stretch of Games like Livingston was able to do.  Livingston always is ready when the bench is needed: take Game 1 in Cleveland, during which the Cavs were unable to handle his length, forcing them to adjust the way their bench defense moving forward.

Livingston is absolutely key to the versatile Warriors system, but one man won Finals MVP as a bench player due to his “Lebron Light”, jack-of-all-trades skill set:

And, yes, Steve Kerr’s ass is thankful that this interview was recorded before the Warriors’ championship in 2015, rather than their unsuccessful run in 2016.

TelFairNot every NBA player that has draft scouts salivating at all of their tools and potential reaches the levels of an All-Star, or even the levels of a 6th Man of the Year: that much is common knowledge.  For every LeBron James, there’s a Sebastian Telfair.  

And a Darko Milicic.

And an injury riddled Greg Oden.

Ans some players, like Michael Beasley, are just too lazy or distracted to take advantage of their considerable talents.  Some, like Adam Morrison, just didn’t have the head for it and broke down under the national spotlight.  Others still can only watch as their bodies prematurely deteriorate.  A select few even manage to reach that coveted upper echelon of NBA superstardom for a brief moment before their bodies quickly betray them.  Just about every single failed star has a clear set of reasons for not fulfilling their potential.

file_171055_0_IggyOne exception, however, comes to mind: Andre Iguodala.

Iggy never had any significant lingering injuries. He’s a likable enough dude, and he’s never shied away from social media or marketing campaigns. He’s easily one of the most complete players in the league, and has the rare ability to take over a game on either side of the ball.  He’s never been one to cower away from the spotlight; actually, he seems to thrive under it.  

Iggy’s been on good teams, bad teams, offensive juggernauts, defensive stalwarts, championship contenders, and lottery dwellers.  Iguodala’s been given opportunities to carry his own team, and he’s teamed up with the likes of Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and, of course, the GOAT himself, JaVale McGee. He survived Billy King, Mo Cheeks, and Doug Collins.

Andre Iguodala’s career has been a strange one, indeed – drafted by the Iverson Sixers with the 9th pick in the 2004 draft, Andre’s absurd athleticism, fantastic defense, and peculiarly efficient scoring quickly made him a fan favorite. Philly fans soon dubbed him the “Other AI” and rabidly awaited his rise to super-stardom.  Iggy put up 9/6/3 as a rookie on impressive 49/33/74 splits, which improved to 12/6/3 on 50/35/75 splits in his sophomore campaign. His incredible performance (and tragic snub) at the dunk contest only added to the hype.

Then the Iverson trade happened and Iguodala was given the keys to the 76ers’ future. I know what you’re thinking. This is where it all went wrong, right? There are a ton of examples of guys who just couldn’t lead a team. Iggy just must’ve been one of them.

Nope, not at all. Just as Philly fans hoped, Iggy stepped up in a big way. He exploded to an impressive 18/6/6 line in his third year, peaking in the following season by averaging 19.9 points per game along with 5.4 boards and 4.8 assists.  Not only could the guy score, but he continued playing his elite brand of defense, developed into a fantastic playmaker from the wing, and soaked up massive amounts of minutes without racking up injuries. Many NBA fans dubbed him Little LeBron, and in hindsight, it really wasn’t a bad moniker.  He wasn’t quite on that tier, but he was ballin’ out in just about every way imaginable. As such, the Philly front office rewarded him with a contract worthy of their new found star.

After that contract, Iggy proceeded to to have the most confusing career I’ve ever seen. His scoring dropped off, lowering every season until reaching a meager 7.0 ppg over this last season. Many Philly pundits turned on him – the talking heads wanted their AI 2.0.  The Sixers ended up moving him in the Bynum debacle, and most casual fans were glad to see him go.

That last paragraph gives off the impression that he regressed to become a bad player, but that’s just not true. He made an All-Star game, was the best player on a number of playoff teams, hit multitudes of clutch shots, led an 8th seed to an upset of a 1st seed (albeit one with an asterisk), and put together a highlight reel worthy of an NBA Hall of Famer.  While his scoring numbers dropped off, he improved his scoring skills along with just about every other aspect of his game.  Years later, and he still possesses a level of athleticism that most 32 year olds can only dream of.

Iggy was, and still probably could be, a legitimate star.  He just won a FInals MVP trophy last year, after all.  He simply chooses not to be.
The guy clearly didn’t have the type of mentality that revels in carrying a team, and Philly’s lack of support certainly didn’t do anything to mend that.  Why would he bother?  He has his numerous accolades anyway.  Hell, his teams seemed to get better when he stopped scoring (likely more a product of roster/team changes). Basketball pundits continue to love him and he ended up in 2k commercials anyway.

It’s almost like he’s still a star, just without the added pressures.

3048194-inline-i-1-tmwt-andre-iguodalaWhen the time comes, he can still takeover offensively, whether that means an occasional 30 point game or an absurd crunch time duel with a superstar. Otherwise, he just kinda does his own thing. In an era where every LeBron tweet and Carmelo interview is torn apart and scrutinized for anything less than perfect loyalty, Iggy allegedly turned on his own team in a playoff series to help facilitate his offseason signing with the opposing team and nobody seemed to mind.

Nobody knows why Iggy has chosen the route that he’s chosen, though it’s an undoubtedly interesting one.  Not many players average 12 ppg and carry their team to a 1 seed through the All-Star break like Iggy did in the lockout season. Even fewer can win a Finals MVP on a team with the regular season MVP while matched up against the best player of our era (sorry, Steph). At 32, he’s still a capable player that everyone should take some time to appreciate while his odd game is still thriving.

Iggy’s bad back could’ve spell doom for the Warriors if it had persisted: he is a key part to what allowed their switch heavy defense, and multiple ball handler offense.  I don’t think anyone can blame the Warriors’ loss on Iggy failing to seize the moment.  Livingston and Iguodala made the Warriors toolbox function, and everything about their team is a sum of the parts of everyone’s strengths.  Strength in numbers indeed.  Their team just couldn’t muster the strength to withstand a pressure that only comes to franchises for rare moments in time.

By Mitch Suchan