When Troy Weaver selected Isaiah Livers with the 42nd overall pick in the draft, he may have sacrificed some high-end potential offered by other potential picks, but he added a Michigan native who has consistently made winning plays throughout his career.
It all started in Kalamazoo where Livers earned scholarship offers from Michigan and Michigan State in 2017 en route to winning Mr. Basketball ahead of Xavier Tillman. From there, he chose to play his college ball in Ann Arbor where he replaced Duncan Robinson in the starting lineup early his freshman year and never looked back.
Livers helped Michigan make the National Championship game as a freshman and continued to add to his game throughout his time in Ann Arbor. Injuries eventually derailed his development a bit, but he showed enough in his four years of college to bring optimism for Pistons fans.
His injury history is potentially an area of concern. Livers suffered groin and ankle injuries as a junior and a foot injury to end his senior year. It’s entirely possible those won’t be constant problems for his future, but multiple foot-related injuries entering the NBA are something to keep an eye on.
The Michigan product is an interesting type of athlete. He plays above the rim on both ends (more on this later), but his lateral mobility leaves much to be desired, particularly when compared to NBA athletes.
His processing of the game, however, is unquestioned.
Livers is one of those players who has a nose for the ball. He’s an excellent communicator defensively who recognizes actions prior to them happening. As a result, you nearly always see him in the right position when he’s defending off the ball and he works hard to get his teammates in those positions as well.
Offensively, Livers’ high-level processing is most clearly seen when he’s cutting off his teammates’ creation.
Watch here how he times his cut off an opposite side pick-and-roll perfectly with the point guard turning the corner, throws a quick hand up to note his cut, and takes a wider path so as to not run into the defender he knows has to shift down to cover the corner:
Those details matter. If he began his cut too soon, the paint would get clogged. If he took a more direct line to the paint, he runs into the defender and maybe even gets an offensive foul as a result.
Against Minnesota, Livers again times his cut from the corner perfectly, waiting until his defender commits to the drive, and finishes strongly through some traffic at the rim:
You’ll find plenty of these perimeter cuts throughout Livers’ career in Ann Arbor. And his timing and strength around the rim allowed him to finish them at a high level. Prior to his senior year, Livers finished “close twos” at a 68% or higher rate. That number plummeted last season, which could be variance and is worth keeping an eye on. If his lower body injuries persist, he could continue to struggle to finish near the rim in traffic.
He should have no issue behind the long line.
Livers was a bonafide stud three-point shooter in college. He shot better than 40% from deep on very high volume in each of his last three seasons at Michigan. Those attempts were almost always of the catch-and-shoot variety which shouldn’t be concerning given that will be his role with the Pistons.
Although Livers mostly attempted catch-and-shoot threes, he was rarely deterred by contests and moved back to NBA distance pretty regularly. His ability to get his shot off easily, efficiently, and from anywhere on the court should translate well in the Motor City. His attention to detail also shows up on these shots, albeit in more subtle ways.
Note here how rather than move quickly to the open space, Livers stands his ground to provide an easier outlet early and then slowly shifts to his left, mirroring the ball-handler to provide the best possible passing lanes:
His understanding of passing and driving lanes makes things easier for teammates and can certainly be a valuable skill for the Pistons’ young primary ball handlers.
When Livers isn’t shooting or cutting, he’s not going to provide a ton more obvious value at the NBA level. He’s very much a straight line driver who isn’t going to break down anyone but the worst defenders off the dribble. He has, though, shown a willingness to operate inside the arc when defenses concede it.
Here against Purdue, he accepts a great screen, turns the corner, makes the big commit to the lefty drive, and then hops to the right for a smooth mid-range jumper:
This sort of move will be necessary if Livers shoots threes at a high level and defenses begin to run him off the long line. And he showed in college that he can do that enough, when necessary.
His other favorite move inside the arc is reminiscent of what Pistons saw from Saddiq Bey last season.
Without much room in the corner, Livers uses a small pump fake to create a little amount of space good enough to post a smaller defender and hit a smooth step-back jumper for an easy two points:
Livers has that little jumper down pretty well and he can get deeper into the paint for a finish and/or free throws if the matchup allows.
His work inside the arc with the ball won’t be anything dynamic, but he’ll need those secondary moves to keep defenses a bit more honest if they’re working hard to suppress his three-point attempts.
The final aspect of his offense that needs to be mentioned is his work in transition. His shooting ability makes him an obvious threat along the wings. But he’s developed a real knack for getting out in transition, finding open lanes, and finishing above the rim. And while he’s not a guy who jumps out of the gym by any means, he can finish at the rim in resounding fashion:
He’s shown some of that athleticism in the paint on the other end of the court, too.
Because his lateral mobility isn’t great, Livers sometimes finds himself getting beat by quicker ball handlers. And while that’s certainly a concern that limits his overall defensive value at the next level, Livers works hard to stay close enough in a trail to let his leaping to cover some of his flaws.
Watch here how he fights over a Maryland screen, trails the ball handler on his hip, and erases the layup attempt easily:
Against George Washington, he got beat off the dribble but again stayed hip-to-hip and made an incredible left-handed block after already forcing a reverse layup:
It remains to be seen how some of this will translate to the NBA level. But the foundational skills are there for Livers to be a positive contributor for the Pistons.
If there’s a blueprint for Livers’ success it might be in what Detroit just saw with Saddiq Bey.
Livers is a little more than a year older coming into the league and comes with injury history that Bey doesn’t have, but there are many other parallels. Detroit is getting an excellent shooter with not-great lateral movement who understands how to play the game at a high level. And Livers being reunited with John Beilein certainly can’t hurt his development.
Don’t be surprised if Livers makes his way into the Pistons rotation earlier than expected, much like Bey did a year prior.