Statistically, Isaiah Livers is playing the best basketball of his career right now.
The senior wing is averaging 13.9 points and is shooting 49.5% from the field through Michigan’s first ten games — both career highs and good enough for second and third on the team, respectively. He leads the Wolverines in made 3-pointers and free-throw percentage too.
While it’s a relatively small sample size, Livers’s offensive production is impressive not just quantitatively but also qualitatively — the way he’s playing. Even as one of Michigan’s go-to options offensively, Livers isn’t forcing the issue. Instead, as opposed to previous seasons, he’s letting the game come to him.
“I’ve tried to force it before, but it just led to turnovers, bad passes,” Livers said. “It just doesn’t work, it looks like sloppy basketball. I’m at my best, we’re all at our best, when we let the game come to us.”
Livers returned to the Wolverines after testing the NBA Draft waters this offseason. After an injury-plagued junior year that was abruptly ended by the COVID-19 pandemic, Livers came back because he had “unfinished business” at Michigan — both individually and, more importantly, from a team perspective.
Livers hasn’t let his personal aspirations interfere with the team’s success. If anything, his ability to defer to his teammates when necessary has been a major factor in the Wolverines’ 10-0 start.
“Isaiah’s never been selfish …” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s never come in and talked about ‘I need to have more plays’ or ‘I need to score more’ or anything like that.
“I’m just happy to have a guy like that on our team and on our roster that’s all about the team. He puts the team before himself.”
At times, Livers has had to make sure he isn’t being too unselfish. Prior to this season, Livers sat down with Howard and asked how he should balance wanting to incorporate his teammates while also staying aggressive himself.
“I have moments in my head in the game where I’ll be constantly thinking about it when I’m like ‘OK, attack here. This is my point to attack. Clear side, go ahead. But if there’s a gap right there, I might as well swing it and let those guys play.’ And if the ball comes back to me, that’s when I can be aggressive.”
Another reason Livers hasn’t had to force things offensively is because of the Wolverines’ depth. The emergence of teammates like freshman center Hunter Dickinson — who was just named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the fifth time this season — the addition of proven scorers like transfer guards Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown and the further development of sophomore wing Franz Wagner has allowed Livers to pick his spots. Michigan has a well-rounded offense with six players averaging more than 8.5 points per game. On any given night, any one of them could lead the way from a scoring perspective.
“You hear coach Howard talk a lot about sharing the game,” Livers said. “We got a lot of talent on the floor all the time so it’s not going to be one guy having 20-plus consistently. … Everybody can shoot, put the ball on the floor, is crafty, can shoot free throws. So everybody’s pretty smart and can make the extra pass. It’s just fun basketball. Why force it and bring negative energy into a positive atmosphere?”
Despite putting up career numbers, Livers’s steady performances this season haven’t necessarily jumped off the page or earned him any weekly awards, but that’s not what the Wolverines have needed so far. And as long as Michigan continues to win, Livers is okay with that.