One of the best stories early in the NBA season has been the resurrection of former University of Kentucky star DeAndre Liggins’ career.
After three seasons out of the league — two in the D-League and one overseas — Liggins made the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster. And even though playing time was minimal early, Liggins stepped up when teammate J.R. Smith was injured and played well enough to earn a spot in the team’s rotation.
Liggins has averaged 4.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.5 steals in 20.8 minutes in his last four games. He’s 3-for-3 from three-point range. But, as is his reputation, it is his defense, that has impressed his teammates and coaches.
“Just the biggest difference now, he’s playing with the starters and now he doesn’t have to handle the ball as much,” Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said of the two-time D-League defensive player of the year. “He doesn’t have to make plays. So now he can just do what he does, and that’s defend, maul people on defense.”
Liggins’ play has garnered the attention of several media outlets. Here are some links and highlights from those stories and interviews:
Coach Cal ‘told me what my niche was’
In a radio interview with CavsHQ (starting at the 16:45 mark), Liggins talked about taking advantage of his opportunities with the Cavaliers, getting his NBA D-League championship ring and how his time at Kentucky turned him into a star on the defensive side of the ball.
“When Coach Cal got hired at Kentucky, he brung in guys like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe. So I knew my opportunity as a point guard was over. So I kind of just had to find another niche. He told me what my niche was going to be in order for me to play, and he said I had to defend.”
He also talked about catching “a touchdown pass” from Kevin Love for a layup against the Miami Heat.
“Oh man, it was great. I didn’t know he was going to throw it, cause I believe he didn’t trust me to catch it. But he threw it. … It’s a Peyton Manning pass. … That was a great pass by Kevin Love, and I hopefully I get some more of them.”
Liggins has modeled his game after Memphis’ Tony Allen
After Calipari told Liggins to concentrate on defense, Liggins said he looked at Memphis Grizzlies swingman Tony Allen as inspiration as a player who has carved out a role that way. Both are from Chicago.
“Me and T.A., we grew up kind of in the same dirt,” Liggins told Cleveland.com. “We always have that competitive edge to us, that chip on our shoulders and teams like that. Every team needs a guy like that on their team to pick up a guy 94 feet and to make a guy rattled a little bit. That’s what I bring to this team.”
Being able to hit open shots, including three-pointers, will be essential to him keeping a role with the Cavaliers.
“I’m going to be open,” Liggins said. “I’m going to be open because I haven’t played that much for guys to be like, ‘Oh Liggins can knock down open shots.’ Guys still think that I’m a mediocre shooter and I have to prove I can make open shots.”
Liggins has been in counseling since domestic volence arrest
Liggins’ time out of the league has been in large part because he was arrested and charged with seven felony counts in a domestic violence case in 2013. He was released afterward by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He talked about that incident, involving the mother of his child, in an interview posted on ESPN.
“I learned a lot from it,” Liggins said. “Domestic violence is a big thing [that’s talked about in society] now. I learned from it. I became a better person, a better parent. I’m still taking counseling for it. My child’s mom is, too. So, we’re both in a good place right now.”
Liggins says he’s shy, lets his defense do the talking
“I’m a quiet guy and I don’t say much unless I’m on the court,” Liggins told Ohio.com. “I just try to stay out the way, you know — know when to laugh, when to be serious and things like that. …
“I’m from Chicago, so I’m a tough guy. I’m an observant guy, so I watch guys — watch the way that they work, the way [they] talk in the huddle and things like that — and I try to take that with me on the court.”