Welcome Back, Shaun Patrick Livingston

Shaun Livingston ComebackShaun Livingston is back in the NBA, and we at ETB couldn’t be more pleased.

In the middle of the decade there were only a handful of young basketball players on the planet more intriguing than Livingston. It’s difficult to over-emphasize just what a tantalizing prospect he was heading into the 2004 NBA Draft. After transferring to Peoria Central High School in Illinois Shaun led his team to Class AA state titles in 2003 and 2004 before starring in the 2004 McDonald’s High School All-American game where he was named Co-MVP of the contest.

Livingston was selected with the 4th overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004, but just as he was starting to break out in his third season on a woeful Clippers team, disaster stuck. The Peoria, Illinois, native suffered one of the ugliest injuries you will see in all of professional sports. Seriously, it made Joe Theisman’s epic fracture look not so bad. Watch at your own discretion, it is not for the faint of stomach.

His entire knee was destroyed. His kneecap was dislocated, causing the leg to fully snap laterally. The anterior cruciate ligament was torn. The posterior cruciate ligament was torn. The lateral meniscus was shredded. The medial collateral ligament was warped. His patella and his tibia-femoral joint were dislocated. And we all thought that was the end of the young man’s professional basketball career. I was convinced I would never see him in an NBA jersey again, and that it was a tragedy not just for Livingston and his family but for basketball fans everywhere.

6-7 point guards with his fluidity and skill set just don’t come along very often. And it wasn’t a novelty act: the kid had the tools and mentality to be a true point at that size. He thrived as a playmaker and didn’t look for his own shot, unlike many combo guards masquerading as points. He always possessed a handle, court vision, and mastery of passing that was often jaw-dropping for any player, let alone a guy his age and height. And on defense Livingston’s height, length, and fast hands had people seeing him as a potential nightmare on that end of the floor.

Talking to NBA draftniks in 2004 it wasn’t uncommon to hear people calling Shaun Livingston the best long-term prospect out there – and this was the same year guys like Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Jameer Nelson and Kevin Martin were flying off the board.

But after suffering that brutal knee disintegration Livingston missed the last 38 games of the 2006-07 season and all of the 2007-08 season. His contract with the Clips expired after that, and LA renounced their rights to him. After finally be cleared by doctors to hit the court again in mid-2008 Livingston began showing up on NBA radars again, trying out for teams like Minnesota and Portland, but finding no offers. The Miami Heat eventually signed him, but oddly they didn’t appear to give Livingston any serious consideration as he appeared in just four games before they shipped him to Memphis for a conditional 2012 second-round pick.

If that’s not a slap in the face, what is? Being dropped by Memphis the same day.

Enter the enterprising young Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that seems intent on compiling the best young collection of elite talent in the NBA. On March 7, the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League, owned by the Thunder, inked Livingston to a deal. After three weeks with the 66ers (where he averaged 9.5 points, 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 29.4 minutes in 11 games) the Big League club signed Shaun to a multi-year deal.

It’s a fantastic move. Livingston may already be more of a pure point than Russell Westbrook, whom I love but wonder if he will ever be a true point. And at just 23 years of age and impressively recovered from that career-threatening injury, this is a low-risk, extremely high-reward type of move. The early results have been positive, with Livingston dropping 10 points, 3 boards, 1 block and 1 assist on 5-of-6 shooting in his Thunder debut on April 3rd followed by an impressive 10 points, 7 boards, 5 assists and 2 steals on 5-of-7 shooting on Sunday.

If the signing had taken place before I released my lists of 30 players I want to see more of down the stretch, Livingston would have trumped Thabo Sefolosha as the Thunder’s representative. He’s that interesting a prospect, and that compelling a human-interest story.

I’m looking forward to watching him the rest of the way and for years to come.

You should be, too.

Related Reading:
30 Players I Want to See More of, Oklahoma Through Washington
Who Should Be the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year? Part I
Russell Westbrook Giveth, and Russell Westbrook Taketh Away
Thabo Sefolosha Moseys Down to Oklahoma
Counting Down the West’s Worst – OKC Thunder

Shaun Livingston Photo Credit: Icon SMI

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