Since being drafted 42nd overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, Isaiah Livers has been a mystery for Pistons fans. The 23-year-old underwent foot surgery in April after his college season ended. While rehabbing his foot, Livers missed the Summer League, training camp and the preseason. In the regular season, Livers was briefly cleared to play in mid-December before quickly being shut down again due to his foot. The rookie only played in one of Detroit’s first 60 games this season.
In that lone appearance, a nine-point loss to the Indiana Pacers in December, Livers played sparingly. He played in a little under five minutes and missed his only two shots. Both came from three-point range. He managed one steal, one block and a turnover as well.
Livers did not see the court for the Pistons again for over two months. One game, well not even five minutes, is not even remotely enough of a sample to predict Liver’s potential future in Detroit’s rotation. Most Pistons fans’ expectations for Livers came from what they saw in college.
Isaiah Livers in college and with the Motor City Cruise
Michigan State Spartans forward Aaron Henry (0) defends against Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers (2) on Sunday, March 7, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Michigan Msu (Photo Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LL)
Playing four years at the University of Michigan gave many Pistons fans from the state ample opportunity to see Livers on a game-by-game basis. The former Wolverine was known for his three-point shooting. He shot 41.2 percent from beyond the arc during his time in college. He ranked top 12 in the Big Ten in defensive rating in two seasons. And Livers was an All Big-Ten second team selection in 2020-21.
At Michigan, Livers performed as a solid defensive player who had a deadly three-point shot. He was never the go-to scorer, but he filled his role with the team perfectly. Entering the draft, scouts viewed Livers filling a similar role in the NBA. A three-point specialist who could hold his own on the defensive end of the court. The Pistons desperately needed three-point shooting, they ranked 22nd in three-pointers made and three-point percentage in 2020-21. Not only did Livers fit the bill as a three-point shooter, but he also fits the Pistons mold of a tough, hard-working wing.
Livers’ injury kept him sidelined for the majority of this season. Before returning to the court in February, the rookie had the chance to get his feet under him with the Motor City Cruise. On February 23, the Cruise matched up against the Wisconsin Herd. Livers played just under 26 minutes and scored 13 points. He sank three of his nine shots from deep in the Motor City’s 110-107 victory. It was not the most efficient game for Livers, but it was a chance to get his feet wet. He performed well and was called up to Detroit’s active roster where he made his debut on February 27.
Livers with the Pistons
The Pistons drafted Livers partially because they needed to improve their three-point shooting in 2021-22. As of right now, Detroit ranks 29th in three-point shooting percentage, nailing only 32.2 percent of their three-pointers this season. A very low percentage for a team that ranks 16th in the NBA in three-pointers attempted. Livers would not have saved Detroit’s three-point shooting woes if he were present all season, but his absence has not helped either.
In his return to the court against the Charlotte Hornets, Livers knocked down two of his four shots from beyond the arc in a narrow Pistons victory. His next three games were a bit quieter. Livers only made one of his five threes in his minutes against the Wizards, Raptors and Pacers.
Livers shined in his 24 minute outing against the Atlanta Hawks. In an overtime game Detroit won by just three points, Livers played an important role for Detroit. The 23-year-old rookie finished the game with a career-high nine points. He made three of his six shots from beyond the arc. Livers also tallied two rebounds, three assists and three steals. The rookie made the extra pass multiple times against the Hawks, passing up decent shots and finding teammates who had better looks.
Livers is establishing his future role in Detroit’s rotation
In just six games with Detroit, Livers has flashed his potential as a shooting threat that the Pistons drafted him to be. Since returning to the rotation in late February, Livers is attempting 2.8 catch-and-shoot threes per game. He is making 42.9 percent of those catch-and-shoot opportunities. Detroit’s top three scorers, Jerami Grant, Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey are the only players to attempt more catch-and-shoot threes than Livers. It is not unreasonable to think these numbers are sustainable. Livers is a smart shooter who has good shot selection.
On defense, Livers has shown the ability to put himself in position to make a play. Opponents have been shooting 71 percent at the rim against Livers these past five games and he does not collect many rebounds. But Livers plays with high intensity and has the tools to improve as a defender as he adjusts to the NBA game.
As the Pistons wrap up their season, Livers could see his opportunity to develop into a more complete three-and-D wing. Veterans could see some of their minutes reduced as Detroit pushes for better positioning in the NBA Draft Lottery. Those minutes are likely to go to a player like Livers. This final stretch is the 23-year-old rookie’s chance to catch up to his peers after missing 59 of Detroit’s first 60 games.
Livers can grow into the type of role-player that perfectly fits next to Cade Cunningham. His potential as a role-player would fit with any team in the league. Livers does not demand the ball in his hands. He has shown the makings of a trustworthy catch-and-shoot, three-and-D forward. Down the stretch of this season, watch for Livers to build up momentum towards a more prominent role in Detroit’s 2022-23 rotation.
(Featured Image Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)