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Livingston back where second act began


Livingston back where second act began

One look at 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston and you see a size dimension not previously available in the Wizards backcourt. The pass-first point guard's ability to facilitate offense is another trait that's been lacking in Washington without John Wall running the attack. Randy Wittman hopes that won't be the case going forward now that the ex-Wizard is back.

"He gives us a guy that knows how to play, good basketball IQ," the Wizards coach said after Friday's practice and one day after the 27-year-old veteran rejoined the team. Wittman served as an assistant when Livingston played 26 games late in the 2009-10 season for the Wizards. "He’s got a good feel. We’re doing some of the same stuff when he was here before and we had him here. I’m familiar with him, so I thought he had a good practice for the first practice."

For his part Livingston, is simply happy being part of any practice. Traded from Milwaukee to Houston during the summer but released by the Rockets before the start of the regular season, Livingston has been working out in Florida. Now he's back in Washington and prepping for his first game. The Wizards (0-7) host Utah (4-6) Saturday night.

"Feels good. It's an opportunity to play," Livingston said. "Just being anxious. I haven't played yet this year. I'm just anxious to get out there, very anxious. Just gotta get my legs back, get my wind up and I'll be alright."

Playing for six teams over seven seasons, Livingston averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 assists. He credits his previous opportunity in Washington with resurrecting his career.

The fourth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers - where he played with current Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell - suffered a devastating left knee injury in 2007. Out for the entire 2007-08 season, the Illinois native's return included brief stints with Miami and Oklahoma City before landing with Washington in 2010.

"It was kind of at the turning point in my career with my knee. I was dealing with the struggles of trying to make the transition back on the court consistently and not a game here, then sit a game," said Livingston, who made 18 starts with the Wizards under former coach Flip Saunders, averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 assists.

"Flip really gave me the chance... the opportunity to play consistent minutes. My knee kind of responded well thank God, and I got a chance to get some confidence in me. Kind of reform my game."

Now he's back, replacing reserve point guard Jannero Pargo.

"I thought we needed to get another playmaker," said Wittman of the roster decision. "Never an easy decision, but one when he became available, I had some familiarity with [him] and I think he can help us."

While Pargo offered more help as a perimeter shooter, Livingston's pure point guard skills and size creates other options for the coach.

"Obviously, you can post him some," Wittman said. "He just knows how to run a team. He knows which guys are hot, how to get them the ball, that type of thing. And the size. I think he gives us good size at that position we haven’t had."

Wittman said Livingston, who joins a position currently manned by starter A.J. Price, was in "fair shape" considering he's missed game action. The pair will direct traffic while also vying for what ultimately figures to be the primary backup role when Wall returns possibly by the end of November.

"I’ve been playing against him for a while now," said Price, a high school contemporary of Livingston. "He’s very good. He’s only going to help the team in my opinion. He’ll give us what we need. I’m not sure how we’ll use him minutes-wise, but a little competition brings out the best in everybody."

After previously wearing number two in Washington, a number now worn by Wall, Livingston will don 14 which at the time was occupied by Al Thornton. Other teams inquired about his availability following his release, but Livingston said, "I think this really gave me the opportunity to be back in a familiar system and get good playing time and get a chance for me to show what I can do out there."

Which is to help a team ranked 27th in scoring generate points.

"Just I think to maximize guy's potential, just the scoring on the wing, low post with Kevin [Seraphin], just trying to get easy buckets as well," Livingston said of his role. I think everything's been kind of hard from what I've watched, been kind if bogged down and hopefully I can help get guys easy buckets. You get a couple easy buckets you get some confidence, get some momentum you'll play a little bit looser."

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Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

The NBA is so perimeter-oriented these days that often the first statistic cited for a player leaving college for the pros is three-point percentage, regardless of the position. Even big men are expected to knock down threes, for if they can't then there is less space on the floor and like Neil deGrasse Tyson, NBA teams love them some space.

Three-point shooting, however, is not a strength for Wizards' first round pick Troy Brown, Jr., at least not yet. In his lone season at Oregon, he shot just 29.1 percent from long range. Brown can play multiple positions, from point guard to small forward, and shooting is important to be successful at all of them.

Brown and the Wizards, though, are not concerned about his potential to develop an outside shot in the long-term. Brown addressed the issue after his pre-draft workout with the Wizards earlier this month and cited a very specific reason not to worry.

"I don’t think it was my mechanics. I think it was my shot selection this year," he said. "Some of the shots I was taking weren’t very good. It’s about repetition, getting in the gym and putting up shots. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job showcasing that and I feel like a lot of teams are impressed with my shooting."

Brown knocked down plenty of shots in his workout with the Wizards. That helped convince them to select him at No. 15, as they see a guy with potential to become at least a serviceable shooter from long range.

“We’re very confident that we can improve it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "From what I understand, he’s very coachable and he wants to get better. That’s a big part of the step in developing a young player."

Team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed to agree with Brown's personal assessment, that it's not a problem with his mechanics per se. Surely they will tinker with his shot once he gets in their development system. But they don't see the need for a dramatic overhaul.

"He's got a nice stroke," Grunfeld said. "Obviously, when you're a freshman coming up to another level there are different things you have to work on, and we have a really good player development staff and we're going to get him to work right away."

Players of Brown's ilk developing an outside shot at the NBA level is more common than many may think. Just because someone isn't a good shooter in one college season, doesn't mean they will never be able to develop the skill once they mature as a man and a basketball player.

Though Brown's scoring repertoire may seem limited, plenty of players have gone from rags to riches offensively at the professional level. Brown may have to begin his NBA career helping in other ways, like on the defensive end, before his scoring abilities round into form.

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler could be seen as a best-case scenario example. He made only 36 threes in three years in college and shot just 35.3 percent as a junior. When he was Brown's age, as a freshman he averaged only 5.6 points, and as an NBA rookie he shot just 18.2 percent from three.

Through years of hard work, Butler turned himself into a 20-point scorer with a respectable outside shot, including a career-beset 37.8 percent from three in the 2014-15 season. Some guys take more time than others. At only 18 years old, Brown has plenty of time to figure it out.


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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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