ESPN analyst Jay Bilas broke down Wagner and Livers in a pre-draft conference call with reporters, and shared what his expectations are for each at the next level.
While Wagner, who averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest last season, was certainly productive in college, he was an inconsistent shooter from the outside (shot 34.3 percent from long range last season) and had his ups and downs. But he has all the tools — versatility, length, defensive prowess, passing ability, etc. — to develop at the next level, which is why he’s projected to be off the board so high Thursday night.
“Wagner is interesting,” Bilas said. “He’s been rising up sort of in the minds of some as a prospect because he’s got positional size and he’s a long-armed, athletic wing that can guard a lot of different people and guard them successfully.
“He’s a really good off-ball defender. He’ll get steals and blocks and deflections and all that stuff, but he’s an excellent team defender. You watch him on film, and he’s in the right spots all the time. He plays the ball very effectively.
“He’s a good offensive player that is evolving into a really good offensive player. I think he should be a better shooter. Like he’s got good shooting form, but his numbers don’t equate to that form in my view. I think he should be better, and I think he can be better. But he’s such a good cutter.”
His basketball instincts and IQ are off the charts, Bilas explained, and the shooting numbers will improve as the 19-year-old continues to improve his all-around game.
“The way he cuts to the basket, and then he’s able to actually become a driver off of his cuts, which is a little bit unusual, but I really like the way he plays and the way he moves without the ball. He’s a good — I think he can become a better corner shooter, a better floor spacer, but that’s something he’s going to have to continue to work on.
“A lot of people are talking about him as like a top-10 pick, and I didn’t see that earlier in the year with him. I saw him as a first-round pick, but I didn’t see him as sort of that high, but a really, really good prospect, and I think he’s going to be taken — sounds like he’s going to be taken in the lottery.”
There’s always room for shooters in the NBA, and that’s exactly what Livers has been his entire career. The Kalamazoo, Mich., native who is battling back from a stress injury to his right foot shot 39.8 percent from three-point range as a Wolverine, and over 40 percent each of his last three seasons in the Maize and Blue.
“I see him as kind of a sharp-shooting forward,” Bilas said. “He’s always struck me as an elite offensive player that he shoots over 40 percent from three, and that puts him in a high category among shot makers.”
But the second part of being a ‘three-and-d’ players is defense, of course, something Livers has to continue to improve if he wants to stick in the league for a long time.
“I think he’s a pretty good defender that’s worked hard at it to get better. It wasn’t a strength of his early on in his career, but he’s gotten better and gotten tougher. But I think he’s more of an offensive talent rather than Wagner. I think [Wagner’s] value, while he’s a good offensive player, his value is more as a versatile defender, and [Isaiah’s] value is more as an offensive player.”