In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will profiled in this space and, in this installment, we glance at Michigan forward Isaiah Livers.
Many prominent college basketball players will be making interesting decisions in the coming days, and Michigan forward Isaiah Livers falls into that category. Livers is not widely projected as a first-round prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft and, while he did choose to test the waters by declaring for the draft, he is leaving the door (wide) open for a return to school.
“I’m going to take everything into consideration. Talk to people in my corner about what’s the best opportunity and decision for me, if I have to come back to school, there’s no problem with that. I’d always love to come back for another year at Michigan,” Livers told the Detroit Free Press in March. “If they like what they see and teams are literally saying that they’re going to draft me, then I’m pretty sure that I’m going to stay in the draft. It’s basically whatever evaluation or feedback, however that comes and basically how I make my decision.”
Still, Livers is far from the lowest-ranked prospect that chose to test the process, and there is intrigue with his game. As a player with college eligibility remaining, Livers is a bit on the older side with a July birthday when he will turn 22 years old, but the 6’7, 230-pound forward also brings strong pedigree to the table. Livers was a four-star prospect in the high school class of 2017 and, prior to enrolling in Ann Arbor, he was named “Mr. Basketball” for the always competitive state of Michigan.
To put it plainly, Livers’ primary appeal to NBA teams will come with his shooting prowess. The combo forward is a career 40.4 percent shooter from beyond the three-point arc at the college level and, with nearly 300 attempts under his belt, the sample size is significant. From there, Livers is a career 85 percent free throw shooter — with a robust 95.7 percent clip as a junior — and there are plenty of indicators that he will be able to stretch defenses.
Livers isn’t an overwhelming shooter on the move, but he does have the ability to get his shots off in intriguing positions. In addition, he is a knock-down shooter in catch-and-shoot situations and, when combined with his size, there is an interesting package to evaluate.
In looking beyond the shooting, Livers is a pretty solid vertical athlete and, when given the opportunity, he has been able to flush some impressive dunks in the past. He is relatively limited laterally, though, and many of Livers’ best collegiate minutes came as a small-ball power forward, which could illuminate his best role as a professional.
Some of his athletic challenges could stem from the fact that he needs to improve his body, and there were some injuries, especially during the 2019-20 season, that limited Livers on the floor. With that said, Livers might be a player that struggles even if he reaches his optimal position athletically, and that is something NBA teams will need to examine.
Overall, Livers profiles as a 3-and-D prospect but, in short, there are questions about who he’ll be able to guard at the NBA level. As noted, Livers defended a lot of 4’s during his time at Michigan but, even with decent size, he could be overwhelmed in certain match-ups. He did post a 2.2 percent career block rate in Ann Arbor, which is quite solid, but his career 1.3 steal rate leaves plenty to be desired, and that dipped to only 0.8 percent as a junior.
Livers likely isn’t going to be a big-time defense playmaker at any point but, at the same time, there is evidence that he can execute in a scheme, and he is fairly strong to hold up against bigger opponents. From there, Livers will need to be able to rebound enough to stick at the 4. He rebounded better in his first two seasons at Michigan and, even if you attribute the downturn to his injuries, Livers will need to return to that level (or better) at the professional level.
Livers’ shooting is, once again, his most significant trait, but the rest of his offensive game must come together in order to provide the best path forward. He had as many turnovers as assists during his three-year college run and, while Livers does have a general feel for the game, he isn’t a player that is going to be any kind of on-ball engine professionally. On the plus side, Livers is a very effective cutter, both on tape and when examining that play type statistically, and that is a nice asset to combine with his natural floor-spacing appeal.
As with many prospects engaging in the pre-draft process, Livers will be trying to garner as much information as possible and, in the current climate, the 2020 process is quite a bit different than many previous iterations. Still, Livers has been clear that he may not jump to the NBA without certain assurances, which could lead him back to college.
“Honestly, a guaranteed contract,” Livers told the Big Ten Network when prompted on what would make him stay in the draft rather than returning to Michigan. “Just all the right words from the teams, whoever I talk to is basically all I’m going to go off of. The situation right now, I don’t know if they’re going to push stuff back or if I won’t be able to work out with teams or if they’re just going to go off what they think of this player and go off on a whim and draft.
“I have to hear a guaranteed contract or I’m not going anywhere,” Livers continued. “I’m just going to come back and get my education.”
Ultimately, Livers is a prospect that has significant appeal from a shooting perspective and, before injuries sidetracked his 2019-20 season, some were evaluating him as a potential first-round sleeper. That is out the window at this juncture but, for an Atlanta Hawks team that currently owns the No. 52 overall pick, finding a legitimate plus shooter with size and acumen would be potentially intriguing, even if Livers doesn’t stand out in other ways.