Early in Michigan’s blowout win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, Jordan Poole spotted Isaiah Livers while driving. He kicked out to the open man. Livers shot — and hit.
It was nothing special, and that in and of itself is special. After Friday’s 83-55 win over the Mocs, Livers has hit 11 of his first 20 3-pointers to open the season. Coming off the bench, he’s shooting at a 52.9-percent clip from the field, rebounding the ball 5.3 times per game, playing multiple positions and helping key the top-ranked defense in the country.
“Isaiah’s definitely a glue guy,” Poole said. “Whether it’s going out there, playing — guarding the ‘1’ or the ‘5’ or going to get rebounds, but also being able to make shots and really defend at a high level. Isaiah’s definitely a piece that we need.”
The process of making him into one started in the gym this summer. Livers and Poole worked out together, having both stayed in Ann Arbor, and naturally, shooting competitions developed. Poole, the effervescent gunner, dominated.
As time passed though, Livers started to close the gap. Poole saw him working on his shot with Michigan coach John Beilein, figuring there were minor tweaks being made, if anything. On Friday, he attributed Livers’ early improvement — as a freshman, he shot 33.9 percent from outside — to confidence.
It also has to do with some changes to Livers’ footwork and arc.
“Last year, what was happening (was) he wasn’t consistent with his footwork, and the arc on his shot,” Beilein said. “Down the stretch last year, he couldn’t make many shots. Duncan started making them at that time. You see much more arch on his shot, and occasionally, frequently, I should say, you see really good rotation.”
In the roughly 32 hours Beilein had with him over the summer they toyed with the arch-finders in the Wolverines’ gym. Beilein estimates Livers was somewhere around a 40-percent arc last year — and that number has moved to 48 or 49 now.
Livers still hasn’t beaten Poole — at least according to Poole — but that’s beyond the point. His improvement has come with more than a few tweaks to his shot.
His freshman year was paradoxical. Livers earned a starting job in January and his production promptly tapered off. Still, he stayed in the starting lineup, even after suffering an ankle injury at Northwestern in early February — one that hampered his ability for the rest of the season.
It was easy to view a move to the bench at the start of the season as a sign that Livers hadn’t produced in practices. Instead, it has signaled anything but. He looks like an (very) early frontrunner for Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.
A season of experience under his belt and injury behind him, Livers doesn’t have to worry about the same things as last year. He knows the system, and knows it well enough to be teaching freshmen when they make a mistake. His confidence is there, in full force.
He’s comfortable in his role — and thriving.
“Last year he was really thinking about just starting,” Poole said. “Like, when he was starting, he was thinking about just being a starter and being solid. So he wasn’t as aggressive as he can be. But this year, he’s come out aggressive. Whether it’s attacking the glass or being aggressive on the offensive end. He’s just a different player, I guess.”