Isaiah Livers showing off all-around game during Michigan's 3-0 start
Ann Arbor — Before and after games, Isaiah Livers will receive texts from his friends telling him to do this or letting him know he could’ve done that.
The senior forward likely appeased them all after he showed off his offensive repertoire, scored from all over the floor and even handled the ball at times in Wednesday’s 84-65 win over Ball State.
Livers tallied a game-high 21 points and finished 8-for-11 from the field, knocking down shots inside, outside and everywhere in between.
“He did a really good job of being patient offensively,” coach Juwan Howard said. “Also, taking his time and taking advantage of what the defense gave him, making sure whatever they did was wrong. He shot the ball with confidence, took the ball to the basket with a certain level of aggressiveness and toughness, which I’ve seen since the time I started coaching him.
“Also, what I was impressed with was his leadership was great, from what he was doing while he was out of the game and in timeouts, a lot of encouraging words he kept saying to his teammates. He was being the leader we need throughout the year.”
Through three games, Livers is putting up eye-popping offensive numbers: 60 points, 70% shooting on 2-pointers (14-for-20) and 52.9% shooting on 3-pointers (9-for-17). He’s also made all five of his free-throw attempts and has eight assists, which is already a third of his total last season.
He’s reaping the benefits of the offseason work he put in to improve his body, his ball-handling, his footwork and his game, particularly in the mid-range.
When Ball State made a late first-half push, Livers countered with a pair of shots from the elbow. He did the same thing again after halftime when he got a switch off a ball screen, caught a bigger defender on his heels and buried a pull-up jumper.
"That's something I definitely emphasized last season because I knew I was going to be in a lot of ball screens. I wanted to have the patience to come off the ball screen,” said Livers, who studied how NBA players like LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard handle ball screens.
“I've always had the mid-range shot. I just had to figure out how to be confident in my shot and my ability of taking that pull-up jump shot because it's in my game. It's something that I work on every day honestly.”
Developing a quicker first step was another area he focused on in the offseason with sports trainer Micah Lancaster, who has worked with numerous NBA All-Stars. Livers noticed in the second half he had chances to catch and go when the ball would swing to him out on the perimeter. Instead of settling for jumpers, he blew by his defender for a two-handed dunk on one occasion and drew a foul to get to the line on another drive.
Livers even got the chance to run the offense as a point forward in the second half. On one of those few plays, he came off a screen at the top of the key while moving to the right, stopped and fired a pass over to senior guard Chaundee Brown on the left wing for a 3-pointer.
"It's something that I naturally do,” Livers said. “I came into the season this year emphasizing my ball-handling and my vision. Coach Howard trusts me enough to throw me in a ball screen or initiate the offense. Once you got the trust from the coach and have been practicing it for the past few months then it's going to become natural. I felt super natural in that position."
Given the talented pieces on the roster, Livers noted there can’t be one player who is doing it all on the offensive end. But if the Wolverines need someone to do a little bit of everything, Livers showed he has the potential to do so.
“I know what we have, and I know what Coach Howard trusts me to do and I try to stick to that as much as possible,” Livers said. “He knows what I'm capable of as well as I do. We worked on it all in the offseason. When he calls my number, I'm always ready.”