DeAndre Liggins went through a lot in his three years at Kentucky. He saw the failures of Billy Gillespie, the hype of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and the ultimate team success that came last year with Brandon Knight. Liggins never stood out so much for what he did individually but what he contributed to his team. He endeared himself to fans with his sacrifice and defensive ability.
Kentucky would not have made it as far in the NCAA Tournament if Liggins was not doing the little things to help the young team grow and develop.
Liggins is a defensive ace, using a long and athletic 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame to make the All-SEC defensive team last year. His statistics are not much to look at -- 8.6 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting last year -- but that has never been what he is about. And that might be what got the Magic's attention most as they assessed who they could take at No. 53.
It probably says more that Liggins endeared himself to Kentucky fans with his constant improvement and hard work on the defensive end than anything else. He is going to get an opportunity as the Magic need a stellar perimeter defender.
Liggins has a lot of parts of his game he needs to refine. But (hopefully) like Courtney Lee he can learn a lot of it by playing on the floor. If he plays defense and plays hard, he will endear himself to Stan Van Gundy and get some playing time.
The Good: Liggins is a defensive-minded player. He is not going to try and do very much more. His role with the Wildcats was to take the best player on the opposing team and shut him down.
Against North Carolina in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, he helped hold Harrison Barnes to 7-for-19 shooting (he still scored 18 points, but got to the line just three times). The previous round against top overall seed Ohio State, Liggins helped keep David Lighty to 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting. In the SEC Championship game, Kentucky held Florida's stars Chandler Parsons (9 points, 4-12 field goals) and Erving Walker (8 points, 3-10 field goals).
Defense is a team effort and college stars have room for improvement too. But Liggins did a lot of work to improve himself defensively and find a role on a star-studded Kentucky team.
That always seems to be the good thing about a player like Liggins. He will find a way to fit in himself. He doe snot need the ball in his hands to be successful. That means he could find success for the Magic coming off the bench.
The Bad: Liggins offensive numbers greatly underwhelm. He was always playing behind guys like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and Brandon Knight throughout his career. He never really asserted himself offensively. The 8.6 points per game he put up as a junior were the best of his career.
When you turn to his shooting numbers, things do not look much better. He shot 42.4 percent from the floor last year and 39.1 percent from long range. Even worse, he was a 64.8 percent free throw shooter. That suggests he is simply not a great shooter. And guys like that have problems cracking Stan Van Gundy's rotation. Liggins will have to become a better shooter for sure.
His defense is pretty difficult to measure. It is the skill for which he was picked. But Liggins has to be able to provide something else for the Magic to make the roster. He has to show improvement and do a lot of work on his shooting before the season begins. I am sure Orlando will be very patient if he is a superb defender. But his other skills have to catch up to his energy and defense.
Draft Sites Say:
NBADraft.net: "Versatile, long and lean, can guard all three positions on the perimeter ... NBA size and athleticism at 6-6, 210 pounds ... 6-foot-11 wingspan combined with solid lateral quickness makes him a potential lockdown perimeter defender on the next level. Unclear whether he'll be able to contribute offensively on an NBA roster ... Good, but not great athlete ... Poor free throw shooter."
Matthew Kamalsky, DraftExpress: "A 6-6 guard capable of playing every perimeter position, Liggins started off last season with a string of productive performances before seeing both his playing time and effectiveness tail off as the season went on. Opting to return to the Wildcats instead of transferring or being shown the door like some of his former teammates, Liggins has accepted a huge challenge by returning to Kentucky. With potential top-draft pick John Wall assuming minutes at point guard along with Eric Bledsoe, a high ranked 2009 point guard recruit in his own right, and a handful of returners joining him on the wing, Liggins will have to improve significantly if he's to earn the trust of his new head coach."
Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post: "Liggins does Harper one better, insofar as he can play three positions. A point guard coming out of high school, the 6-foot-6 Liggins didn't quite develop the playmaking game he needed to play point guard full time at Kentucky. He then transitioned from a purely offensive role--point guard is inherently an offensive position--to a defensive one, as Billy Gillispie and John Calipari deployed him as a go-to perimeter defender, often tasked with defending the opposing team's best wing scorer."
Otis Smith, Magic General Manager: "Probably more than anything else he's a tough kid. He works. He's not afraid to work. He's one of those guys that we can throw into different situations. Probably the biggest thing about him, I think, is he can defend multiple positions."
Eric Lindsey, Cat Scratches: "If you can remember back to his freshman season, Liggins endured a much-maligned first year under former coach Billy Gillispie. There were rumors of a possible transfer when Calipari took over, and Liggins sat out the first nine games of his sophomore season. Some people called him a cancer and suggested Calipari rid himself of Liggins. Soon thereafter, Liggins bought into Calipari's system, reinvented his game and became one of the best defenders in the country. Liggins improved his shooting this year, hitting 39.1 percent of his 3-point shots while averaging 8.6 points."
Sam Dykstra, WEEI: "As his stats would suggest, Liggins never was much of an offensive force over three years in Lexington. He scored his career high of 19 twice last season in home wins over Indiana and Tennessee but reached double digits in only 15 of his 38 games. Where he really made a name for himself was as perimeter defender, thanks in part to his 6-foot-11 wingspan. Usually charged with covering the other team’s best guard, Liggins led the Wildcats in steals with 46 (1.2 per game) last season and even earned Lefty Driesell Defensive All-America and Yahoo! Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Opposing coaches liked what they saw defensively as well, voting him to the SEC All-Defensive squad as well as the East Regional all-tournament team after helping the Wildcats reach the Final Four."
Final Word: Don't expect Liggins to contribute much offensively, at least initially. He is going to have to greatly improve his shooting ability to stick in the NBA. But he will get his chance to be a defensive stopper off the bench.
He can make it. He is going to have to work hard to do it. Liggins can definitely fit in. But he will have to fight for it for sure. He still has a long way to go.
Photos via DayLife.com.