Not long after the Pistons had their introductory press conference for their rookies, Isaiah Livers was ready to start working out in the practice facility.
Every little bit counts, and for Livers, there are some steps on the road to recovery from the right foot injury that required surgery and ended his college career at Michigan. Livers, one of the Pistons’ second-round picks last week (No. 42 overall), is working his way back and says that he could be ready just after the start of the season.
“For five-on-five, I expect to be fully cleared, hopefully, at some point in October,” Livers said Wednesday. “The latest, my doctor said, was Nov. 1, but the way things are progressing right now, it’s looking pretty good.”
Livers, a 6-foot-7 wing, probably will start the season in the G League with the Motor City Cruise until he’s able to ramp up his work and play at full strength. Until then, he’s been doing some light work with the other young players who are preparing for the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this weekend.
For Livers, the workouts have had some familiar faces, with former Michigan coach John Beilein, who is the Pistons’ senior advisor for player development, and Luka Garza, who played four years at Iowa and was the Pistons’ pick at No. 52 in the second round.
Seeing Beilein was special for Livers because they hadn’t connected last season during the pandemic.
“I got to see him for the first time yesterday in the gym in the morning. We probably hugged for about 10 seconds — I’m not going to lie,” Livers said. “It was great to see him because I couldn’t see him all last year because of COVID, so we reunited. We got to get some work in actually working on footwork.
“We’re starting it all over because I do have to retrain my foot again and the perfect person to start with is Coach Beilein.”
The Pistons project to have good depth on the wing but are working with Livers to develop for the future. With his size and defensive disposition, he could become an asset that fits what the Pistons are trying to do in their rebuild.
In his time playing against Livers, Garza has built a healthy respect for him. General manager Troy Weaver said that they were looking for good players on the court and high-character men off the court. With their draft picks, they appear to have checked all the boxes.
“I’m extremely excited to be able to play with him. I’m tired of going against him; we had some battles,” Garza said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve been around with just his release and his arc. It’s tough to guard, and he’s more than just a shooter — he can score in a lot of different ways.
“He can score at the rim, he’s big and he’s a great defender. He’s a high-IQ player and he’s a high-character guy. I think that’s what Coach (Dwane) Casey and Mr. Weaver were talking about in that press conference, that they were bringing in high-character guys, so I’m really blessed to be able to play with a guy like that.
“Obviously, he’s a great player but he’s an even better person, and you can tell that just by playing against him and then now getting to know him a little bit better.”
Garza cuts weight
Garza is another recognizable name, having been selected the unanimous national player of the year last season. That he was still around when the Pistons picked late in the second round at No. 52 is a head-scratcher — one that could benefit the Pistons.
Casey has noted that Garza has been a pleasant surprise in their early workouts ahead of Summer League.
“Luka’s a competitor and it’s a situation where he knows how to play, and one thing that I didn’t know is how good of a 3-point shooter he is,” Casey said. “I knew he was a good shooter, but I didn’t know how it would translate from Iowa to the NBA — sort of like it was last year with Saddiq (Bey).”
Garza, at 6-11, can be an intriguing piece coming off the bench, with his ability to stretch defenses because of his perimeter shooting. He was a versatile big man at Iowa, and he said he lost about 30 pounds with a no-carb diet to get down to a playing weight of just under 250 pounds.
That’s provided a better look at what he can be in different spots on the court on offense and defense.
“I think they’re just trying to evaluate me and look at me in a different lens in terms of practicing and playing five-on-five and seeing what I can do,” Garza said. “I think the biggest thing is they just want me to be me and play as hard as I can. They’re working on stuff with me in terms of footwork, especially defensively.
“I think they just want to see me continue to be myself and bring the experience that I have and be able to apply it.”