The Detroit Pistons’ young core showed a lot of promise during the first two games of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Rookie guard Jaden Ivey showcased his electrifying play style along with a good jumper and decent playmaking chops. Isaiah Stewart displayed floor-spacing ability as well as his lockdown defense. Rookie big man Jalen Duren dominated with springy athleticism and good size for an 18-year-old. Killian Hayes played to his strengths with great playmaking and defense. Second-year forward Isaiah Livers continued to display promising three-and-D abilities.
Of course, the entirety of the young core did not play in Summer League. Despite being rostered, Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey did not play a minute of Summer League action. They did not need to; they have proven what they can do.
The Pistons went 2-0 to start Summer League. The team followed up their 81-78 victory over the Trail Blazers with a 105-99 win against the Washington Wizards. After two games, it appears the core group has been shut down for the remainder of Summer League play.
Of Detroit’s young core, Livers may have improved his stock the most within the organization. The 23-year-old played strong defense and consistently found good positioning along the perimeter for open looks from beyond the arc.
Livers put on excellent performances in both Summer League games. If he can continue to build off of these games in training camp and during the preseason, he could make a case to start this upcoming season.
Isaiah Livers had a solid rookie season despite limited playing time
A foot injury held Livers out for most of his rookie season in 2021-22. The University of Michigan product played in only one of Detroit’s first 60 games of the season.
After a brief stint with the Motor City Cruise in the G-League, Livers played his second NBA game in late February. He missed only four more games the rest of the season and even managed five starts at the close of the season.
At Michigan, Livers was never the star. He was a lights-out three-point shooter and steady presence on the defensive end of the court. It is safe to say that the 23-year-old’s game has translated well to the NBA level.
In 19 NBA games, Livers shot 42.2 percent from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempts per game. He shot 42.6 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities as well. Statistically, Livers was the best shooter on the Pistons’ roster this past season. Cory Joseph was the only other Piston to knock down over 40 percent of his three-pointers.
Along with shooting, Livers also displayed great instincts in making the extra pass. The forward consistently passed up an ok shot at the basket in favor of a pass setting up a better look. It did not always result in an assist for Livers, he averaged 1.1 per game, but he often had a pass that led to an assist. At worse, by making the extra pass, Livers kept the ball moving for a Detroit offense that could become stagnant at times.
Livers brought a defensive intensity that impacted the game during his rookie season. Opponents shot 33.1 percent on shots 24 feet or more away from the rim against Livers. Shots from beyond the arc were by far the most frequent shots Livers defended. He does well closing out to shooters, and he moves his feet well to stay in front of his man, forcing them to either pass or settle for a contested jump shot.
Livers built off his rookie season in Summer League
Against Portland, The 23-year-old’s defensive intensity was on full display. Livers flew across the court on multiple defensive possessions to make block attempts at the basket. You could hear the smack of his hands against the backboard on these plays. He finished the game with two blocks and a steal to go along with four defensive rebounds. He stayed disciplined as well only committing one personal foul.
Offensively, Livers scored only eight points. He sank only one of his eight shots from beyond the arc. They were not bad shots. Livers was consistently in the right position with a good look at the basket. His shots simply were not falling. But, as long as he kept getting good looks, the 23-year-old kept letting them fly.
Livers rebounded offensively against the Wizards. He led the team in scoring with 20 points. From three-point range, Livers continued to put himself into position for an open shot, but this time he got them to fall. He shot four-for-five from beyond the arc.
Livers did not have a block or steal against Washington, but he came up with a big defensive play late in the game. The Pistons led 96-93 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Washington’s Devon Dotson drove into the paint and rose for a layup. Livers had positioned himself as a help-side defender and rose with Dotson contesting his attempt at the basket. Trying to finish through Livers’ contest, Dotson missed. Detroit grabbed the rebound, and Livers ran in transition. He quickly positioned himself along the perimeter and sank a transition three.
The Pistons have a hole in their starting lineup
The night before the NBA Draft, the Pistons’ front office dealt Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers. With Grant’s departure, a hole has been left in Detroit’s starting lineup.
The Pistons are looking for a player to step up and fill the void left at power forward. During Summer League, the team experimented with Stewart playing at the four, something he has not done at all in his career. Marvin Bagley III re-signed on a three-year deal, but he may be better suited in a bench role.
At his best, Livers is the ideal player to replace Grant with as the starting power forward.
Cunningham, Bey and Ivey are going to be the self-creators in Detroit’s starting lineup. They need off-ball shooters to space the floor to open up scoring opportunities.
Livers does not demand the ball on offense. He moves off-ball and plays comfortably as a catch-and-shoot threat. This past season, 3.2 of his 3.4 three-point attempts per game came as catch-and-shoot opportunities. He can thrive as a shooter ready to receive a kick-out pass when Cunningham or Ivey are double-teamed on a drive attempt. When a shot is not there, Livers will keep the ball moving.
Defensively, Livers has the size and the effort to hold his own. He is not going to lock down the league’s star players, but he is not going to shy away from those matchups either.
Livers is not going to be a star for the Pistons. He is a three-and-D forward who keeps the ball moving. That is exactly what Detroit needs to round out the starting lineup. If Livers continues to build off his rookie season and his Summer League performance, he could establish himself as the obvious choice to fill in as the Pistons’ starting power forward.
(Featured Image Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports)
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