As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Shaun Livingston, C.J. Watson, and Samardo Samuels.
Follow Shaun Livingston by recouping in an impossible situation.
Shaun Livingston was traded to Milwaukee over the summer of 2011 as a piece of fodder in the curious Sacramento trade that managed to accomplish the rare trifecta of sending out a value player, moving DOWN in the draft, and ALSO taking on an onerous salary burden. I love talking about this trade, not because I dislike the Kings in particular but because doing all three of those in one trade is almost literally impossible. To fail in negotiation to the point that you are extracting quite literally no added benefit from the trade in either value players added, draft position, or salary space isn't just remarkable -- it's almost unprecedented. It isn't a very common thing. But this is a player capsule, not a "hilarious trades that make even less sense in retrospect" capsule, so I will regrettably sally forth beyond that. Livingston was traded to Milwaukee as part of the deal, as some of Charlotte's odd salary fodder to make sure the numbers worked. He entered the season with no guaranteed role in Milwaukee's depth chart. I'd say he did reasonably well, although there were a few causes for concern. He started the year with a string of good games that built Scott Skiles' trust in him, giving him a spot as one of the first few guards off the bench. Then Livingston's playing time and production lagged in March and April due to fatigue and Beno Udrih's strong finish to the season.
While Livingston didn't provide a massive impact for the Bucks, he was a steady presence and his offensive game (though scantly utilized) had several neat wrinkles. He remains one of the better at-rim finishing guards in the league -- he shot 64% at the rim last year, an excellent mark among NBA point guards. He continued his career-long trend of absolutely destroying point guards in the post, for the rare times he actually found himself matched on a point guard. He also displayed a reasonably good midrange shot, and averaged slightly more FTA per FGA than most point guards. On the downside, he produced these numbers while being woefully rarely utilized, even when he was on the floor -- he had one of the lowest usage rates among all NBA point guards and few were even anywhere close. His defense was strong, although it was far stronger when he matched up with point guards. The biggest issue with Livingston came less from his play and more from the way he was used -- the last two years, Skiles, Silas, and Brown have been unreasonably obsessed with playing Livingston as an off-ball shooting guard. He played 75% of his minutes with Brandon Jennings last year, in fact! It's mostly for his benefit, part of a concerted effort to get him more minutes to showcase his skills.
But therein lies the problem. He's really not a shooting guard. He has the size, but none of the fundamental skills really fit. His long range shooting is -- as mentioned -- awful. His passing is far better when he's got the levity to move with the ball and probe the defense himself, as he's not really used to pivot passing. He's bad at moving off the ball and awful at getting himself open when he doesn't have his dribble to rely on. And he's highly prone to turning the ball over on the catch. A lot of these issues either recede or become less noticeable when he's playing the point. But they also point to fundamental problems with Livingston's current incarnation of his game. The pivot passing problem isn't just one that plagues him off-ball, it also plagues him when he's running the show -- he's poor at plays more complicated than the simplest give-and-go, if he has to receive the ball again. And the lack of long range shooting can be problematic, especially when he's in a lineup that lacks serious outside shooting talent. Teams feel free to pack the paint and force him to chuck up long shots -- and generally, they'll either get that or a turnover.
This all conspires to sabotage Livingston's chances as anything more than a situational backup point guard at this stage of his career, with little upside as he begins to enter his past-prime years. It's not that he's a poor player -- he's solid, and he has a decent mix of talents. So long as you play him at point guard. But his borderline career-ending injury in the 2007 season (which I'd like to avoid talking about -- it still makes me really queasy) has altered his game to the point that he's never going to be all that much more than a backup, and he's got the regular issue where he's far better with the ball in his hands but almost any team that actually needs him has better players that need it more. Alas. It's a great story that he's been able to come back at all, but anyone hoping that Livingston sees a grand rekindling of his former talent may be waiting quite some time.
Just want to cover something before I leave the topic. It can't just be me, here -- doesn't Shaun Livingston now look like the spitting image of a young Andre Miller? I mean, it's uncanny. Here's a picture comparing the two -- sure, Miller has a few more wrinkles and a slightly more defined face shape due to his age, but it's INSANE how similar the overall facial structure is. Ears are similarly sized and shaped, eyes have the same general curvature, cheekbones the same height, beard the exact same style, lips the same size, and the proportions are all exactly the same. I don't know. In any event, I'm freaked out by how similar they look, and now suspect that Andre Miller was cloned in order to ensure the league would never be without his old-man game. All that needs to happen is for Livingston to stick in the league long enough to start spitting old man game. Here's hoping he does.
I'm not a huge C.J. Watson guy, and to be completely honest with you, I think Watson's departure and subsequent replacement with Hinrich and Robinson was probably the only tangible depth upgrade the Bulls made last season. There are several reasons for this. First, his individual numbers were pretty bad. His excellent three point shooting season continued to obscure the fact that anything else he tried to do on offense ended in horrifying fashion -- he didn't even sniff 50% from the rim, and made only 24% of his 3-9 foot shots. He didn't draw fouls, and despite his offensive woes, he had a higher usage rate than 55% of all point guards -- which is absolutely absurd. His rebounding was poor, his overall tertiaries were awful, and he generally looked outmatched. Granted, he was being compared to Derrick Freaking Rose, but still. His passing needs work, too -- he's gotten better over time, but he still rates out as scarcely above average in assist rate and watching video on his passes makes you wonder how exactly he ever gets away with them. There isn't a lot of creativity there, and there's a lot of pass telegraphing that either goes unnoticed or that teams simply don't care enough to scout.
Second, though? Look at the team context. Because the Bulls looked horrendous with Watson on the court last year. Part of this was due to lineups -- Watson shared a lot of time with Boozer (around 70% of his minutes), who was also pretty awful last year. But you can't attribute everything to lineups -- in a pure starting swap-out of Watson for Rose, the lineup of Watson-Brewer-Deng-Boozer-Noah found itself outscored by a point per 100 possession over 270 minutes on the season. That's slightly difficult when the team was a really good team who -- overall -- outscored teams by about 7 points per 100 possessions. The general on/off stats bear this out -- the Bulls outscored teams by about 14 points per 100 possessions with Watson off the court and outscored teams by just two with him on the court, which is about the difference between being one of the greatest teams in the history of the league and being a borderline playoff team. Some of this is attributable to his defense. Unlike Lucas or Rose, Watson has no real ability to stay with point guards or cut off angles to the rim, and against Watson most NBA point guards found they had the ability to get to the rim with incredible ease.
But another large part of this is attributable to bad luck, as many guards had some miracle shots go in against Watson. And the last -- and largest -- part of this is the Occam's Razor answer: he simply isn't that good. In any event, there are some positive omens for him in Brooklyn. As the team is set to be significantly more offense-first, it's likely he'll have far better offensive players on the court to pass to at any given time. His poor defense will still harm the team, but probably not quite as much as it did when he was playing on a team that relied on next-level defense to blow teams out. If he can adjust to being more of a spot-up shooter -- and chucking a bit less than he does currently -- he could have a far nicer place on this team. Watson is 28, now, so his prospects of getting all that much better are minimal to none. On the plus side, he seems like a nice guy and he recently finished getting his degree. Always warms my heart a bit to see NBA guys finish their degree so they'll have something to lean on when the league passes them by.
I've seen a surprising number of people openly ponder why exactly Samardo Samuels did not play more minutes last season. Although I suspect these people are secretly relatives and confidantes of Samuels rather than sincere fans of the man, I'll give these folks the benefit of the doubt and address these concerns honestly and fairly, in tried and true bulletpoint format. (I am using bulletpoints to represent, in exceedingly opaque fashion, the loaded "guns" Samardo Samuels is "packing" on the daily. I am stating this outright such that you will understand my pithy quip. I smile. You smile. There are smiles in this life.)
Samardo Samuels shot in the bottom 25% of all big men from every range except midrange, on a dizzying array of "moves that do not work." From the midrange, he shot 9-of-15. In his career, he's an 13-of-29 shooter from that range. He was the Subway Sandwich Artist of NBA scoring.
Samardo Samuels registered a top-7 turnover rate among NBA bigs last season. He did this despite barely ever even attempting to pass, which (when watching Synergy footage of his turnovers) makes his Synergy reels a hilariously prime candidate for wholly excessive Yakety Sax drops.
Samardo Samuels understands defense only insofar as he understands that a player gets six fouls a game, and that fouls are an important part of the game that must be utilized at all costs. It is very important to use these fouls. #YOFO.
I hope this cleared a few things up.
One of my favorite summer storylines (in an odd way) was the unfettered glee of Cavs fans over Samardo Samuels' conditioning. And it's true -- he looked impressive. Sort of. He'd finally sloughed off his last layer of puppy-fat, and looked (if not phenomenal) at least slightly improved in summer league play. This was it. This was to be The Year of Samardo, as penned by Al Stewart and performed by Nick Cave. This hope and dream did not happen. At all. And while I was never really on-board the Samardo Express, I was interested to see if the hype would actually mean something. It did not. It emphatically did not. Which gets at an actually important point -- when you're in a league like the NBA, being in incredible physical shape isn't a marginal advantage, it's a necessity to even have a chance at being decent. The chance can still fail, and often does. When, like Samuels, you are short for the position with poor rebounding instincts and no defensive accomplishment? You can be the best-conditioned man in the gym. You're still not going to hack it on an NBA level if you don't develop your key NBA skills -- you just have a slightly higher shot at actually making it, is all.
And now, I present to you an old blog post from happier and more innocent times. It was the best of times, abreast of times. Back when we all sat in our dens and cardboard boxes and moon rovers and supped orange soda and dreamed a better life for our children. Back when nobody knew algebra and everyone knew about Alger, brah. In those days, we wondered aloud the question on the minds of a nation. "Samardo Samuels, do you partake in sex with men?"
Oh. That's good to know I guess. I was being really facetious, tho, I don't think anyone was actually wondering th--
... wait, what?
I won't spoil the whole story here. Too many sordid twists and turns. For more on Samardo Samuels coming to terms with his sex addiction, please take a closer look at Angelo Benedetti's hilarious blog post on the subject. "Keep it too urself tho."
• • •
At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Props to Sir Thursday and Josh for collaborating on the riddle-solving and getting all of these folks right.
- Player #292 made two threes in last year's WCF that basically broke my back. Brought back images of 2010 Goran Dragic to float through my head. Awful stuff.
- Player #293's career depresses me greatly. I love him, but he probably shouldn't be back. Sometimes the body simply doesn't cooperate.
- Player #294 had a nice, long, prosperous NBA career. He never made a ton on a per-year basis, but when you stick around for 14 years, the cash adds up -- he made ~ $50 million large.
Also, Sir Thursday -- I'll try to update the directory today. It is actually getting a bit out of date, heh. I may try to post a final update for the week tonight, depending on how long I'm out of the house today. We'll see. If not, have a good weekend -- if so, see you later today, I suppose. (Have a good weekend anyway, though. That's required.)
• • •