There are no shortage of questions for the Orlando Magic as we count down these last few weeks before training camp begins, but one that hasn’t had much speculation (and it’s hard to believe there’s anything about the Magic that hasn’t been brutally scrutinized this summer) is the future of guard DeAndre Liggins.
I’ll never forget the first time we had the privilege of seeing the Kentucky alumni hit the floor in the NBA. It was the second game of the pre-season following his one week training camp. Despite the fact that he probably didn’t even know where the bathroom was yet he got the call: Stan Van Gundy said "Hey you; yeah short rook, get out there and guard LeBron James!" There wasn’t a hint of fear in his eyes and there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in his movement.
Liggins didn’t guard LeBron James well for a rookie whose entire NBA career had been some squat thrusts and the 4th assistant saying "don’t worry the veterans will handle it," he defended LeBron James well. He stayed up in his body making him pass the ball away or take contested, outside jump shots – but even more impressive than that – he denied him the ball several times. I don’t get up of my couch to cheer on third quarter defense in pre-season game very often but I enthusiastically broke tradition for this guy!
Defensively, DeAndre Liggins has what it takes to be a premier lockdown perimeter defender in the NBA. When I saw him take the floor I was worried that James had 3 inches and 50 pounds up on him. Liggins clearly didn’t share my concern. At 6’6", 209 pounds, with long arms, and great speed he’s the physically prototypical 2 guard. He’s a disciple of Tony Allen and learned how to ruin a player’s day on the Chicago playgrounds with him. A lot of rookies can play decent man-on-man defense but struggle to maintain rotations. That wasn’t the case with Liggins. His team defense was pretty seamless. In the Orlando Summer League this year his debut was against Brooklyn Gaurd MarShon Brooks. Brooks must have been pretty high coming of two weeks of speculation on his being a centerpiece in the Dwight Howard trade and how the whole of basketball punditry was talking about him being a young stud who was about to shake up the league. Brooks got up that morning to go out and get buckets. Liggins got up to ruin Brook’s day. Brooks went 0/11. He got shut down. Despite Andrew Nicholson going off for 24 point, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots Coach Mark Price said the day belonged to Liggins.
Offensively he’s not as impressive but there are things about him that are still quite exciting. The majority of his minutes last season came in the form of garbage time at the end of blowouts. This is the time when a normal second round pick on a contending team jacks up whatever shots they can to pad their stats and get attention. This wasn’t the case for Liggins. He took very, very few bad shots which would be impressive for 80% of the NBA’s veterans. His style is a bit of a semi-point guard. His instincts seem to be to try to get the whole offense going when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s especially good at drive-and-kick and he’s got a knack for getting to the line. With more minutes I think he could be a good finisher too. When he takes outside shots they’re almost always open, in-rhythm jumpers.
DeAndre Liggins probably isn’t going to be an All Star but between his size, athleticism, defensive tenacity, and decision making he has the potential to develop into a great role player. With Aaron Afflalo, JJ Redick, and E’Twaun Moore all under contract it doesn’t seem very likely - much to my personal chagrin - that it will be in Orlando.