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Getting Defensive

The D-League's Top Defender Comes to Camp with the Cavaliers
DeAndre Liggins
Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Over the years of watching Cavalier hoops, we’ve seen our shared of “Cav-Killers.”

A Cav-Killer can be a star player who succeeds against every team and torments the Wine and Gold. Or it can be a player who seems to turn it up specifically for the Cavaliers.

Allen Iverson took particular pleasure in killing the Cavs – averaging an even 27.0 points against Cleveland for his career, with two 50-point outbursts and three of at least 40.

In present times, Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are always a thorn in Cleveland’s side. So is Shawn Livingston, for that matter. Denver’s Will Barton averaged 14.4 ppg last year – 28.0 ppg in two games vs. the Cavs.

Oddly enough, current head coach Tyronn Lue used to give the Cavaliers fits during his playing days. (When asked why, Lue joked: “I don’t know – probably ‘cause Damon Jones was guarding me.”)

So, extending this scenario … Is there such a thing as a Charge-Killer?

If there is, the Cavaliers have not only allowed him into their gym, he’s currently a member of Cleveland’s Training Camp invitees – trying to make the squad by being the nastier defender on the floor.

This man is DeAndre Liggins – a player who has helped eliminate the Canton Charge from the postseason not once, not twice, but thrice. That includes this past spring, when Liggins – the two-time D-League Defensive Player of the Year – and his Sioux Falls Skyforce dropped the Charge in the East Finals en route to the 2016 Championship.

Liggins went off on the Charge back in the 2012-13 Playoffs and again with Sioux Falls the following season.

With this in mind, we had to ask the man: Why do you hate the Canton Charge so much?

I don’t!” laughed Liggins, “I mean, I’m a competitor, so I just like to win. I was just doing my job. I’m just trying to beat my competition – at the time.”

So it’s not that Wine and Gold just sets him off?

”NO – I like gold! Look at these (gold) sneakers!” he said, continuing: “I’m just happy to be on this side. I was on that side at first, now I’m happy to be on this side.”

Watching the first week of Cavaliers practice, it’s not hard to pick out the 6-6 combo guard from Chicago on the defensive end. He’s long and strong, quick and instinctive.

”Instincts are part of being a good defender,” said the former Kentucky standout. “You have to want to do it. The thing about defense: It’s hard – you have to want it.”

But Liggins doesn’t deny that he has an innate floor-sense on that end.

“I’m a guy who’s instinctive on defense; I know where to be. I know where the rotation’s gonna be. I have an ability to know where to be ahead of time.”

After being tabbed by the Magic with the 53rd overall pick of the 2011 Draft after three seasons in Lexington, Liggins has also seen action with Oklahoma City and Miami – as well as his two D-League stints and two seasons overseas, in Russia and Germany.

In terms of the difference between working your way into the NBA through the D-League as opposed to overseas …

”Well, I’ll just say that there’s a big difference, food-wise,” quipped Liggins. “The rotations are not the same at all. Different languages. And that was my first time over there. So it was just a culture-shock.

”Even during the game, you’d hear all these different buzzers, and you’re like: ‘What is that?!’ The buzzer means you’re getting subbed. So it’s a lot of things you have to understand."

With Mo Williams announcing his retirement on the eve of Camp, J.R. Smith still holding out and Matthew Dellavedova moving to Milwaukee, Liggins knows he has the chance to turn a strong preseason into a roster spot with the World Champs.

”I think I can help take some of the pressure off Kyrie a little bit,” said the 28-year-old guard. “Picking up point guards isn’t what Kyrie needs to spend his energy on. I’m here to help him in that aspect and just bring another dimension to the scene.”

Liggins isn’t going to light up the box score offensively. He didn’t in college or in the D-League. But on a team with a well-stocked offensive arsenal, he can do what he does best: make all 48 minutes and 94 feet uncomfortable for an opponent.

From Bruce Bowen to Tony Allen, the league’s seen plenty of late-blooming defensive specialists make major impacts at the highest level. As Cavaliers Camp continues, maybe it’s time for DeAndre Liggins to do the same.

”Everybody’s working hard and I’m just happy to be part of this organization,” smiled Liggins. “Happy to play with great players. We’re just competing and I’m happy to be here.

”The past three years were on a downward slope. I faced adversity, I overcame it. Now I’m just happy to be on an upward spiral, going upward.”

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