The moment Jerami Grant was traded, the big question became, “Who is going to take his place in the starting lineup?” As it stands, the Pistons have zero prototypical power forwards on their roster. As we search for answers, Detroit Bad Boys will be examining five candidates on their potential as the starting 4.
From Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor to Detroit, Isaiah Livers has always been a calming presence on the basketball court. His game doesn’t always jump off the screen, but he’s nearly always a positive factor as someone who enhances his teammates’ games. With the Detroit Pistons looking to take the next step as a young team, Livers is the perfect connecting piece as its young stars find their way. This makes Livers the ideal candidate to start at power forward.
Livers won Mr. Basketball at Kalamazoo Central High School and headed east to the University of Michigan. In Ann Arbor, he worked his way into the starting lineup for a team coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. After four years at Michigan, he completed the trip down I-94 after being selected by the Pistons in last year’s draft.
Coming off an injury, Livers rookie season was severely truncated. But, when he did get on the floor, he impressed.
The obvious selling point for Livers coming out of college was his shooting prowess. The Kalamazoo native shot 41% from three and 85% from the charity stripe at Michigan. In his 19 games in Detroit, he shot even better from both spots on the court. Sure, it’s over a small sample size, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep up that efficiency given his pedigree.
That shooting is especially crucial for a team that’s coming off a year where they were the second-worst shooting team in the league from deep. Now, there are certainly other shooting options at power forward for Detroit. But no one else quite brings the combination of offense that Livers provides.
He’s an excellent shooter who does so many of the small things that help a team’s offense, as we detailed when he was drafted. He moves subtly around the perimeter to open up passing lanes for ball-handlers, something that will be crucial as the Pistons develop Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. He cuts decisively when his counterpart loses sight of him. When opponents close out too hard, he has enough game to get to his spots in the mid-range and convert. Last season, he shot 40% on a small sample of pull-up twos, which is all Detroit would really need him to do.
More than anything, Livers just never seems to get sped up offensively. That was perhaps the most impressive part of his rookie season after a long layoff. And it’s a very important factor for this young Pistons team. When things go poorly in the half-court, they need a calming presence to keep them organized. Isaiah Livers is ideally situated to provide that.
But you would expect Detroit to run in transition a bit more this year, especially with the electric Jaden Ivey. When you watch Livers, he doesn’t strike necessarily strike you as much of an athlete. But he showed in college that he can finish in transition with the best of them:
In Summer League, he showed that he can do the same thing on the other end of the court as well:
As great a paint defender as Isaiah Stewart is at a young age, he doesn’t have the quick jump to eliminate mistakes like Livers showed in Detroit and during his time in Ann Arbor. So, if Dwane Casey wanted to start Stewart at the five, Livers would provide that presence and Detroit could be a rather formidable defense in the paint.
Flashy defense aside, Livers is not the ideal man-to-man defender in today’s game, but he’s smart and strong enough to hold his own. His real value defensively comes in the maturity of his game. He recognizes plays before they happened and always seems to be in the right spot. When Cunningham and Ivey get beat, Livers is the perfect defender to have behind them to rotate and communicate with the rest of the team to help mitigate damage.
Isaiah Livers is never going to be an All-NBA type of guy. But with a young team looking to gel, he provides a calming presence and mature game that will be invaluable in helping the Pistons develop.