Miami — In the past two weeks, Pistons rookie Isaiah Livers has been loading up on playing time, after missing most of the season because of a foot injury.
He’s making the most of that time.
In Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Livers played a season-high 27 minutes and scored a season-best nine points. It’s not just the contributions on the stat sheet, though; it’s his ability to bring stability to the defense.
In some instances, he’s like a linebacker, directing players to the right spots and initiating switches to get more favorable matchups. That communication and maturity from a rookie is rare, but it’s part of the role he’s carved out for himself.
“That comes watching them play pretty much the last year, it feels like, so I’ve been watching a lot of practices and I see weaknesses and strengths,” Livers said. “I think me being out there is just trying to be a connecting guy. So, when a guy looks lost, I can be the person to direct him (to go guard someone else).”
It’s taken a lot of study and watching film to get a full understanding of all the principles, but to be able to recognize those things on sight and in the moment is just as impressive. At 6-foot-7, he brings some needed depth to the forward position, and he’s been earning more playing time, rather than being given it.
Most young player are focused on their offensive contributions, but Livers seems to be firmly focused on what he can do on both ends, boosting up to an impressive 38% on 3-pointers.
“He doesn’t miss any assignments. Defensively, he’s super sharp. He’s aware of everything,” fellow rookie Cade Cunningham said. “He’s calling out a lot of things from the low man — and that’s big, having him come in and being able to guard anybody and just bring life to our defense. Add that to his ability to shoot the ball, (he) has been huge for us.
“I’m loving what I’m seeing from him and I’m loving the fact that once he got his opportunity, he was ready for it, and I think he’ll continue to show people who he is.”
Livers said some of that defensive instinct comes from his time at Michigan, where those principles were hammered home by coach Juwan Howard, and before that, John Beilein, who now is a senior advisor for player development with the Pistons.
“Coach Beilein taught me some of my defensive awareness, and it translates to the NBA,” Livers said. “With coach Howard, he was so hard on us. Now I see why we did all those drills all the time, because you build habits, and it literally translated to the next level.”
There’s also something to his level of maturing that comes from playing four years at Michigan and being a couple of years more experienced than some of his teammates. That translates well on and off the court.
“There are certain situations where guys are guys are more mature and have a basketball feel or savvy, whether it’s just one year of college or whatever,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Isaiah is a step ahead from that standpoint. He was well coached in high school and college and I’m happy about that.”
Cruise debut special uniforms
The Motor City Cruise will debut a custom uniform celebrating the fight against breast cancer. For their matchup against the Greensboro Swarm on March 20 at the Wayne State Fieldhouse, the Cruise will don all-pink jerseys for the special event.
The names on the backs of the Cruise players’ jerseys will honor a person significant to that player who has been impacted by breast cancer. After the game, the special jerseys will be gifted to the honoree or a family member.
“Having the opportunity to help in the fight against breast cancer and honor those who have been directly affected is something we take great pride in,” said Rob Murphy, Cruise team president and general manager. “The custom-designed uniforms symbolize power, strength and resilience, and we are honored to have the chance to play for the names on the back of the jerseys.”
A portion of each ticket sold will benefit Game On Cancer, a community organization designated to help in the fight against cancer.
Pistons at Heat
► Tipoff: 7:30 Tuesday, FTX Arena, Miami
► TV/radio: BSD/950
► Outlook: The Heat (45-24) have the best record in the East behind a surge of 13 wins in their last 17 games. The Pistons (18-50) have lost three straight, all against likely playoff teams.