Isaiah Livers showcasing defense, shooting with Detroit Pistons in NBA Summer League

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — Last August, Isaiah Livers was four months removed from undergoing surgery on his right foot to repair a stress fracture. He had just gotten out of his walking boot when the Pistons participated in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League . He watched from the sidelines as his teammates practiced and played every day, as he wasn’t yet cleared for five-on-five action.

It was, by Livers’ own admission, his least favorite time of his rehab process.

“That hurt,” Livers said following the Pistons’ 105-99 summer league victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday. “So I just took that to my workouts when I got healthy. I’m just grateful to be able to step on the floor.”

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Eleven months later, Livers is finally receiving the full Summer League experience. He has started both games for the Pistons this month and has been one of their best players on both ends. His performance during Thursday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers was a defensive masterclass. He had two energetic blocks, and his defensive communication and overall activity were impressive.

Livers shot 1-for-8 from 3-point range against Portland, but it was just an off night for the sharpshooter. He rediscovered his shooting touch against the Wizards, leading the Pistons with 20 points and knocking down four of five attempts from beyond the arc.

Due to his rehab, Livers only played 19 games last season. But once he was healthy, he instantly became one of Detroit’s best shooters, hitting 42.2% of his 64 3-point attempts. This summer, he is positioning himself to play a big role in Detroit’s rotation. The Pistons, who were 29th in 3-point percentage last season, will likely have to rely on him heavily at both forward positions.

“I’m blessed and grateful to have a full healthy summer, knock on wood,” Livers said. “I seen they have the Summer League (championship) rings, so I showed some guys and I’m like, ‘When did they start doing the Summer League rings?’ That gave us more motivation in our stomach. We’re looking to take those rings home. Next season is going to be just like the same approach to Summer League. Come in and do my job defensively. I’m going to play team defense, I’m going to knock down shots. I’m going to do whatever coach (Dwane) Casey wants me to do.”

Livers spent the majority of the past year, as his foot healed, taking notes and watching film with the coaching staff, and it helped him quickly acclimate to the NBA in February. Despite being a rookie, Livers played under control. The game never appeared to be too fast for him.

He has also benefitted from playing under Michigan coach Juwan Howard for two years. Howard, a 19-year NBA veteran who also was an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, made sure his players understood both NBA defensive rotations and defensive communication.

“It was hard at first, to be honest,” Livers said. “Once you got it, it was natural. My time off last year gave me a lot of time to see what coach Casey likes to do defensively. Once I locked in and felt that, it was good and it felt familiar for me.

“When I was rehabbing, it was my time to work on myself, get myself together, get myself back,” he continued. “I took that time to take a lot of notes during the games. I watched little mistakes so when I come in I don’t make the little mistakes, because every coach expects players to continue to make small mistakes. I made sure to clean all that up. I knew shots was gonna fall, but to stay on the floor, I had to defend and rebound.”

Livers is also taking advantage of the opportunity to develop chemistry with his teammates. Due to injuries, he only played with Isaiah Stewart for 12 games. He’s playing with Jalen Duren for the first time, as Duren’s time with the team was delayed while the Pistons awaited the NBA approval of their trade with the New York Knicks.

“It’s great to get that chemistry and see what Jalen likes to do, what his weaknesses are, his strengths are,” Livers said. “I haven’t gotten to play with (Stewart) a lot. I played like 19 games last season. Here and there, I played with him, he picked up an injury. It was cool to be in a pick and roll with Isaiah Stewart, cool to switch on the ball and just watch him lock up guards. We all know how good he is at doing it. I’m just excited for this next year just like everybody else.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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