Should DeAndre Liggins have a long career in the National Basketball Association, last night would be considered his breakout game. There's no doubt about that. But how much of this performance should we take with a grain of salt?
I've made the assessment before that Liggins' offense just wasn't on an NBA level. He's not athletic, his jumper is super spotty, and he doesn't have a lot of tricks (other than a simple pump-fake) that help him score. And I still firmly believe that if everybody on the Thunder roster was put to an offensive skills test, Liggins would come up last, next to Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet. But the key for him tonight was his ability to always be in position. Sure, 11 points in 40 minutes isn't the most impressive thing in the world, but his offensive awareness was still off the charts. He always seemed to know exactly when to make a cut, or exactly where to stand when the defense sagged off him. As a result, he was able to nail some open looks and squeeze in a layup. In other words, just knowing where to be on the floor can go a long way towards your success.
Liggins' energy and effort on the defensive end were something to behold. Again, he's not exactly the most talented guy, but he showed the ability to stay focused for the entire 40 minutes he was on the floor, both offensively and defensively. That's not something you could say for Durant or Westbrook. Of course, this could change if he was playing night in and night out, but his effort definitely had an effect on those whom he was guarding, and allowed him to compile 9 rebounds, which is pretty darned high for a guard.
The perfect example of how his energy affected the game was seeing how effectively he was able to pressure. It seemed that whenever a Trail Blazer would hold the ball inside the perimeter, he'd immediately be over to pressure them. And when they tried to pass the ball back to Liggins man, Liggins was extremely quick in getting back to defend him. Liggins would be smart about it too, not falling for simple headfakes or jab steps.
Thus, the question has to come up. Is he better than Thabo Sefolosha? Well, in the particular area I've highlighted above, I believe he is. He's a lot quicker, so he's able to pressure more effectively and stay on his man. But Thabo Sefolosha is a lot better when it comes to keeping a driving guard on the post, guarding a superstar man-to-man, and possibly rebounding the ball. Defensively, I'd say Sefolosha holds the overall advantage. But offensively, Sefolosha is the better player, no holds barred. He has a better shot, can finish a lot better in transition, and has a better sense of how to pass the ball.
So while I'd say DeAndre Liggins is a nice addition to the Thunder and someone I wouldn't mind seeing against a good passing team or when Martin is struggling, I definitely wouldn't want to see him take away minutes from Sefolosha.
How valuable is Liggins in the long run? Well, he could be an excellent cheap replacement for Thabo Sefolosha after next season, when Thabo's contract expires and the Thunder are up against the salary cap. But he's definitely going to have to work on his shot if he's going to be a force in the NBA.
The strongest comparison I can draw between Liggins and another NBA player is that of Kyle Weaver, a backup guard for the Thunder from 2008-2010. He was an energetic defender, like Liggins, though he was probably a little better at grabbing steals and a little more skilled offensively. After a short contract in Utah, he eventually went to Europe, and currently gets minutes with the Austin Toros. The reason he was never able to become an NBA journeyman is because he just didn't have great offensive awareness. Other than shoot open threes, there just wasn't a whole lot he could do. Every time he drove the ball he got blocked, and he would have been totally useless in an iso situation.
This is where I think Liggins has the advantage for becoming an NBA level player. The offensive awareness is already there. He's a 6'6" guy who can get sneaky passes in the lane. He knows how to find open jumpers, and stay in his spot within the offensive rotation. So if he could apply his knowledge of the floor into some decent ballhandling abilities, or work on his shot to the point where it was at a Sefolosha level, he could definitely stick around for years to come. But, as it stands, he's still got a lot of work to do, so I wouldn't crown him just yet.
What do you think of the breakout game of DeAndre Liggins? Will he stick around for a long time? Let us know! Vote in the poll, post a comment!