I love Shaun Livingston. Who doesn't? He's a great story of someone who hasn't given up and has worked his way back so far even to get to this point. We root for him because he had so much promise and had it all wrecked by injury, even though he hadn't yet shown much before he got hurt. We root for him because he's the closest thing to the pure pass-first point guard that we have.
But while it's understandable to get excited over Livingston's play, I do want to inject a dose of caution to those who feel like we've found the long-term answer at point guard. He isn't that guy. Livingston very likely is the kind of guy you keep around as a backup point guard who can step in effectively without much of a drop-off, but he's not a starter for a good offensive team.
Why? For all of Livingston's good play, there remains one fundamental problem: he can't shoot. Or, more accurately, he can't score efficiently. Livingston's true shooting percentage in his 12-game stint with the Wizards is an abysmal 48.3%, which, sadly, is well in line with his career mark even before the injury (so no, this isn't just a small sample size fluke). How bad is 48.3%? It would put him 55th among all point guards in the NBA if he had already played 500 minutes this season. The following point guards have a higher true shooting percentage than Livingston this year:
- Anthony Carter
- D.J. Augustin (in an absolutely horrendous year)
- Earl Watson
- Carlos Arroyo
- Our very own Earl Boykins
You might be asking why Livingston's TS% is so low. Really, it's simple: Livingston doesn't have a three-point shot, doesn't draw fouls by penetrating inside (he's shot five free throws in 12 games) and doesn't really have a consistent mid-range jumper. Even if he developed that consistent mid-range jumper, his shooting efficiency would not be good.
And before you say "Who cares?," consider that you cannot build a good offense with a point guard that has no scoring ability. The offense may look better with Livingston running it, but it doesn't actually score more efficiently on the whole. According to Basketball Value, the Wizards' offensive efficiency with Livingston on the court is 102.7, compared to 105.3 when Livingston is off the court. Livingston actually improves the defense (1.2 points/100 possessions better) with his presence than he does the offense.
UPDATE: As TheSecretWeapon points out, those are Livingston's full-season on/off marks, so my bad. If you scroll down on the page, you see his Wizards-only marks. However, the larger point still stands. The Wizards' offensive efficiency is 102 with Livingston in the game and 104 when he isn't. It's not as large of a negative effect, but it's still a negative effect.
That isn't to say Livingston has no value. He really is a tremendous passer, as evidenced by his 32.7% assist percentage and, well, watching the games. There's an intangible quality to a good passer that makes things easier for everyone, even if it's not reflected in the on/off court stats. It's far easier for Flip Saunders to feel comfortable with Livingston running this offense than with anyone else, and on a team that needs other guys to develop, having a player who can facilitate that with good passing instead of shot jacking is very important. I would feel fairly comfortable going into next season with Livingston backing up either Gilbert Arenas or some other point guard acquired in some other fashion.
That said, let's not pretend he's the legitimate long-term answer at the position. He can't score efficiently, and he's shown no indication of being able to do so even when fully healthy. And as the numbers always show, when your point guard can't score efficiently, you can't have a good offense.