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Player Profile: Isaiah Livers back for unfinished business in final season

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Livers tested the NBA waters, but is back to help the Juwan Howard era move forward.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Livers, a senior forward out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is next up in our preseason player profile series. There was a brief moment in time this offseason where fans were concerned he would be moving on to the NBA, but Livers removed himself from the process and decided to play out his final season in Ann Arbor and figures to play a key role in his last hurrah.

Here’s a look at his career so far and what he projects to bring in 2020-21.

The Story So Far

Livers committed to John Beilein and the Wolverines back in Aug. 2016 and was a four-star prospect in the 2017 class, per the 247Sports composite. The state of Michigan’s Hal Schram Mr. Basketball winner in 2017 played in 40 games in his freshman season in Ann Arbor, making 22 starts for a team that advanced all the way to the to the national title game. He was placed into the starting lineup that year for a struggling Duncan Robinson, who found his form again coming off the bench and has now ascended to NBA stardom. (Editor’s note: What a wild turn of events that has been!)

Livers only started three games in 2018-19, but his minutes increased to 22.6 per game while averaging just under eight points per contest. In the 35 games he played that season, his rebounding numbers took a leap from 2.3 to 3.9 per game. It was apparent that he was starting to take that leap forward entering his junior year.

Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Michigan made the transition from Beilein to Juwan Howard and Livers was primed for a much larger role on a roster that lost a ton of offense. Knowing that he was going to be taking on much more to the broad shoulders he possesses, Livers physically transformed and slimmed down while improving all facets of his game in the offseason with much more of an offensive burden being placed upon him.

When he was healthy last year, he did not disappoint, either. Livers missed 10 games due to groin and ankle injuries suffered at different times, but he started 21 games and led Michigan in scoring at 12.9 points per game. Livers was Michigan’s best three-point shooter and made 40.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He was also incredibly clutch at the free throw line, missing only two (44-for-46) the entire season.

This team had a different energy about itself when he was on the floor and despite a rough patch in the middle of the season without him, the Wolverines got him back for the stretch run and were looking to round into form heading into March before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of the season.

How He Fits in 2020-21

You can make the argument that Livers was one of the Big Ten’s most impactful players last season as evidenced by how the team struggled when he was not on the floor. Physical, athletic forwards that can play three positions do not grow on trees. Players that raise the level of everyone around them simply by stepping foot on the court are hard to find. Livers is all of these things and more for Michigan. The ball moves better when he is out there, the energy in the building is higher and the Wolverines are simply a different team.

Last year, Howard needed Livers to be the everyman for this Michigan team but you never got the sense that it was too much for him. Luckily for Livers and for Michigan, Franz Wagner broke out down the stretch and was arguably their best player the last month of the season. Heading into this year, this duo remains intact and will be one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten.

Keeping Livers healthy this year is going to be a huge priority for this team, but they should be much deeper and be able to give him rest without there being too big a drop-off. What you have with him on the court right now is pretty darn good and anything more you get at this point is playing with house money. The Wolverines have an enthusiastic and talented leader this season and if the rest of the roster develops around him, you can expect Livers to once again be the straw that stirs the drink in Ann Arbor.