clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Shaun Livingston's throwback game still works beautifully in this era

The Warriors' guard doesn't shoot threes, but manages to check every other box, even the ones analytics practitioners admire.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On the most prolific deep-shooting team of all time, Shaun Livingston stands out. Among all guards who played at least 1,000 minutes this regular season, not a single one shot fewer threes than Livingston, who attempted just 12 over the course of 78 games. Even Tony Allen took about four times as many threes as Livingston over a similar number of minutes. Stephen Curry took a three roughly once every three minutes in the regular season. Klay Thompson did it roughly once every four minutes. Livingston fired up a triple once every 127 minutes.

Why? That's easy: Livingston is a bad three-point shooter, so he doesn't take them. He's never hit more than five in a season. His 12 attempts this season actually approached a career high, set back pre-injury when he went 5-16 as a 21-year-old with the Clippers. As essentially the entire league has embraced deep shooting at historic rates -- largely due to Livingston's teammates' success -- Livingston has remained an anachronistic outlier.

It's telling that the team most in love with the three, the franchise that bathes in the Kool-Aid of the analytic revolution, sought out Livingston as a free agent in 2014 and gives him such a prominent role. Despite his aversion to deep shooting, Livingston checks so many boxes. With a player this solid overall, the lack of range becomes a quirk instead of a fatal flaw.

Livingston's primary attribute is incredible defense. What made him such a drool-worthy prospect out of high school was his combination of length and athleticism. A long 6'7 point guard who can fly is tough to beat. The speed and jumping ability has degraded quite a bit since that catastrophic knee injury almost 10 years ago, but the length allows him to leverage his high-level awareness into elite defense.

Defense matters to the pro-analytics crowd, too. Defense matters a lot. It's just harder to measure than three-point shooting and Livingston's other analytics gold star, a low turnover rate. By any measure, Livingston is a very strong defender, and while he doesn't deliver a ton of assists (about six per 36 minutes in recent years, which is rather run-of-the-mill), he keeps the turnover rate low.

This is because he's not attacking the rim frequently: fully half of his shots come in the mid-range, between 10 and 22 feet, per There aren't a lot of positive things you can say about a heavy diet of two-point jumpers, but they do tend to be associated with low turnover rates. This is one of the hallmarks of Dirk Nowitzki's career: he's the rare high scorer who can create for himself without racking up giveaways because he's not usually driving into traffic. Like Nowitzki and other famous mid-range mavens like LaMarcus Aldridge, Livingston has a huge length advantage against most defenders. He doesn't need to get fancy most of the time; he can just shoot over the top.

This is what makes Klay Thompson so deadly from deep. Livingston applies the principle 10 feet in, and hits at a similar rate (albeit without the benefit of the extra point).

Livingston has a partially guaranteed contract for next season -- the Warriors would only waive him if it's absolutely necessary to land someone like Kevin Durant with no other options for salary cutting. So he'll likely hit free agency a year from now, at age 31, existing as a younger, less-shrill Tony Allen or a younger, less-athletic, less-prolific and less-famous Dwyane Wade.

It's a nice place to have in the modern NBA, especially when he has been so successful on a team so averse to mid-range shots and guards without range. He's proven you can be a good NBA guard without a deep shot in Golden State; no one will doubt it's possible elsewhere. Here's to Shaun Livingston, a throwback player allowed to be himself and succeed doing so.

* * *

The play by the Warriors that blew up Game 1