The tough search for Liggins’ opportunity


When you do not play very often, highs and lows are easy to spot. Those are the only pieces of information we have.

The information Stan Van Gundy and Magic fans have to evaluate and analyze DeAndre Liggins is very minimal. That is the pain of being a rookie at the end of the bench in the Stan Van Gundy offense.

As inconsistencies and frustration with worn-out veterans has seeped in, the calls from fans for some fresh blood has grown louder. The positives and energy many have seen from Liggins have them calling for him — as well as other youngsters like Ish Smith, Daniel Orton, Von Wafer and Earl Clark and even proven younger players like J.J. Redick to get more minutes on the floor.

For sure, there are moments when Stan Van Gundy could use some variety in his lineups. Some new blood could provide the energy and urgency this team needs.

But the inconsistency goes to these young players too, as expected. And they have a lot to learn.

If anything is holding them back, especially a rookie like Liggins, it is their lack of knowledge and Van Gundy’s still developing trust in them that is keeping them from getting onto the court.

This has been especially tough for a rookie like DeAndre Liggins who is learning and experiencing the NBA for the first time.

“It’s repetition. The more repetition you have, the better guys get at it and they will continue to get better,” Stan Van Gundy said before the Magic’s loss to the Thunder earlier this month. “You put the whole combination of no summer league, no summer with our assistant coaches that those guys have, an abbreviated training camp and virtually no practice time and you lump all that together, those guys don’t have much of a chance unless they are playing all the time.

“But when you’ve been out of the rotation most of the year, and now, all of a sudden, we’re throwing you in games and you haven’t had the practice time and things like  that — hell, [Liggins] has not been in most of the walk throughs, he’s just watching while there are 10 guys on the court. It’s not fair to judge what he can be based on what I see out there now.”

And therein lies the problem. Liggins has had little time to work and learn the Magic’s defensive schemes and actually practice them. It is one thing to watch from the sidelines and another thing to get out there and do. Practice is when young players can make their mistakes, the coach can stop and point out what went wrong and then give another repetition to correct the mistake.

It is difficult to allow this to happen in games — especially when the team is in the middle of a Playoff hunt.

Still, there is no doubt from watching Liggins play that he has something to contribute. Finding time for him is going to continue to be difficult, but remains something Stan Van Gundy and the Magic have to explore.

Liggins, for his part, understands it is all a learning process.

“It’s part of it,” Liggins said. “You sit out 32 games and the next three you’re playing. That’s part of the game of basketball, especially in the NBA. So you’ve just got to be ready.

“It’s a learning process. It’s good i got out there and see how everything is. At the end of the day, it’s a learning process of being a rookie. I’m going to make mistakes, I just have to learn from them.”

Liggins has stood out for the energy he brings defensively. He has appeared in nine games, logging 63 total minutes and scoring 14 points. He has posted a solid 10.9 PER, but turnovers (as you would expect with a rookie) are his biggest offensive flaw. He has committed four in 63 minutes and has a turnover rate of 22.7 percent. The sample size statistically with Liggins is incredibly small.

Anyways, Liggins is out there for his defense which is much harder to measure statistically, especially with the small sample size.

On one play, he will be in the right place and make the right play. On others, his inexperience is obvious as he gets burned on a bad closeout or a cut to the wing. The NBA can be a pretty big culture shock for a young player. Especially when you don’t get to play against NBA players every day.

The value of practice to a young player — especially one who is not playing a lot — is clearly enormous. Stan Van Gundy has not been able to develop trust in Liggins because the compressed season has not given him the time to see him every day.

That does not diminish his potential, but it hurts him greatly this season.

“He’s a guy that is going to be a very good defender in this league,” Van Gundy said in early March. “And he will play well on the ball. The problem is, him maybe more than anybody we’re playing right now, the lack of practice time and his lack of experience is there are just so many times where off the ball he is making mistakes. That’s not really his fault. He hasn’t had the repetition to be able to do it.

“He’s a hard-working guy, he was here an hour early [March 1 before the Oklahoma City game] sitting down with [assistant coach] Bob Beyer watching film from last night. He’s going to do everything he can to get it right.”

Van Gundy said it is not fair to judge Liggins based on what he has given them this season. He sees a player with a ton of defensive potential and a growing offensive game. This is a player Van Gundy believes will have a place in the NBA. His work ethic and his attitude certainly suggest he will meet that success.

The only problem is the Magic are in the thick of the Playoff hunt and each mistake a young player makes could be critical to the long-term goals of the team this season. One of Van Gundy’s shortcomings is that it takes time to gain his trust and young players have to prove themselves more. Without practice time to do that, it becomes incredibly difficult.

This is not to say that Liggins and some of the other young players do not deserve their opportunity. You can very easily argue that there are some players that do not have (or should not have) a firm grip on their roles.

The uncertainty of what Liggins and these young players will do is keeping them from seeing the floor. If this were a normal season with a normal practice schedule (let alone a normal training camp), we might see some of the rotation changes.

That is not the case this year.

The Magic are clearly invested in a player like Liggins — the Magic will be able to offer him a qualifying offer this summer according to It seems like they will continue to give him his chance and a fresh start this summer and this offseason.

Until then, Liggins will have to keep doing the things he is doing and work hard behind the scenes waiting for a chance to prove himself.