Cleveland Cavaliers: Can DeAndre Liggins Fill A Gap?

Oct 18, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard DeAndre Liggins (14) against the Washington Wizards at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. The Wizards won 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Despite losing J.R. Smith to injury, the Cleveland Cavaliers should put more trust in DeAndre Liggins, he won’t disappoint.

By far the highlight of the NBA slate of games on Christmas Day was the Finals rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In what was a wildly exciting game, where it felt like most offensive possessions were being played in transition, the Cavaliers edged out the win.

They did so through a late Kyrie Irving shot, in much the same way as they clinched the championship last season.

One player who the Cavaliers could have done with on the court, however, was J.R. Smith.

Out with a thumb injury for the foreseeable future, they will have to get through the bulk of the remaining regular season without his services.

Dec 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers guard DeAndre Liggins (14) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This is where DeAndre Liggins steps in. An afterthought on this team to begin the year, he was out on the court for some key stretches during their win.

He started for the team (as he has eight times in 22 appearances this season) and while his numbers were practically non-existent, that may actually be the beauty to his game.

Make no mistake, not getting to the line once during the contest was poor, as was not attempting a single shot or recording a single point.

But this is exactly the reason why Liggins can thrive for the Cavaliers, because he is the anti-Smith and gives them a different way to beat teams.

In that aforementioned game vs the Warriors, Liggins had one assist, two steals and two rebounds with a plus/minus of minus-9.

He also had fewer minutes (22) than Iman Shumpert (27), another guy who will have to step up in the absence of Smith.

So on paper, he did next to nothing. But to watch the game was to see him chase broken plays, harass opponents, and generally throw himself around the court to help his team.

These are all intangibles of course, and there are many that, without the numbers to back up a player’s productivity, dismiss output like that.

But a look at what Liggins has done with limited minutes this season (just more than 15 a night), shows us that he is carving out a role of his own.

Smith is a lights-out three-point shooter when he’s in a groove, and he’s shooting 36.2 percent from long range this season.

Even more impressive, he’s recommitted to the other end of the court, and has become an above average defender (defensive plus/minus of plus-0.3 this season is a career high).

Losing a three-and-D specialist is a blow, but Liggins is equipped to fill the void in his own unique way.

Any player who is content defending and not taking a single shot in a game in 22 minutes is the kind of guy you want on your roster for a deep playoff run.

With Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and even Channing Frye (another long-range threat) on this team, Liggins won’t be asked to score for this team either.

Yet he’s still shooting an impressive 53.3 percent from long range this season. This information does come with the caveat that he’s only attempted 15 three-pointers so far (making eight).

But if Liggins was asked to take even two more three-pointers a night (and in Smith’s absence, that is entirely likely), that average would drop, but you feel he’d still make more than he’d miss.

So in a sense he has untapped potential in this area, while also having some joy in the past with long range shooting (he shot 36.8 percent from three as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012-13).

Defensively Liggins can have an even bigger impact for this team and it could have a positive effect in the long run for the Cavaliers.

Right now, Cleveland has the 12th best defense in the league, with a rating of 1.029. However in their last three games (when Liggins has seen more involvement), that number falls to 0.995.

That mark puts them third in the league over those last three contests and Liggins has been a key to this improvement.

His defensive plus/minus rating for the season is 2.1, by far a career high. But it is also the second-highest mark on this team (behind Tristan Thompson‘s 2.5).

When you combine this with his usage rate when on the court (10.5, second-fewest ahead of only Thompson), a picture forms of an unselfish player who plays hard defensively and puts the team first.

At a time when everybody wants to take the big shots and get paid accordingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers have stumbled upon a hard-working player that is not interested in individual numbers.

It helps that he spent the last two seasons out of the league and at 28 years of age, DeAndre Liggins looks to have found the secret to sticking with a contender.

Only it’s not a secret at all, as all he has done is worked hard defensively and let the stars on this team score all of their points.

Missing J.R. Smith for roughly three months is a blow, but in Liggins the Cavaliers have found the next best thing and he’s nothing like Smith at all.

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