The Washington Wizards' latest free agent acquisition, point guard Shaun Livingston, is being brought in to back up A.J. Price and hold down the fort until John Wall returns from injury. A journeyman who's now suited up for five teams in the last five years, Livingston is more well-known for suffering one of the worst knee injuries in NBA history than he is for his game.
That shouldn't be. Livingston has quietly become one of the league's most underrated players, a true two-way player who's at the very worst a capable backup point guard.
Livingston will provide the Wizards with immediate help in three areas where the team has chronically underperformed this year. First, the offense should run noticeably smoother, as Livingston's pass-first instincts and court vision make him a far better distributor than either Price or the recently waived Jannero Pargo. At first glance, Livinston's assist totals aren't particularly impressive (4.0 per 36 minutes last year, 4.7 the year before). However, this is partly a result of how he was used over the last two years. Because of his height and length, Livingston has spent a lot of time playing off the ball with a shoot-first point guard, limiting his touches. He's also at his best finding shooters coming off of screens, something that limited his effectiveness in Charlotte and Milwaukee, but will allow him to mesh very well with Bradley Beal and to a lesser extent Jordan Crawford.
The Wizards should see an up-tick in the effectiveness of the team's half-court offense when Livingston checks in. Livingston's a very good post-up player, especially when he plays point guard, and is very good at turning and shooting over smaller defenders. A lot of Washington's struggles this year have been tied to the team's inability to break down a defense. That's been a result of no one on the team (save for Kevin Seraphin) being able to score in a one-on-one situation. While Livingston's not good enough to be anything close to a go-to scorer, he's still a better option at this point than someone like Trevor Booker or Emeka Okafor.
Livingston was likely brought to the Wizards for his offensive abilities, and he's definitely going to fill a need. However, he's actually much better on the other side of the court. Due to a combination of size, quickness, and basketball IQ, Livingston has become one of the NBA's better defenders, especially against point guards. Last year, Milwaukee was 7.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Livingston on the court, while opposing point guards put up a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of just 9.0 against him. By comparison, the Wizards have been torched by point guards this year, especially when Price has been in, allowing opposing point guards to post a PER of 19.9. Livingston won't single-handedly solve this problem, but having him on the floor certainly won't hurt.
In short, the Shaun Livingston signing makes all the sense in the world. No, he's not a world-beater, not by any means. He fits the Wizards like a glove, though, and represents one of the best value signings the team has made in recent years.