Nets' Shaun Livingston shoots a free throw against the Miami...

Nets' Shaun Livingston shoots a free throw against the Miami Heat during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game at Barclays Center. (Oct. 17, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There's a bright spot in Deron Williams' extended preseason absence, a sliver of sunshine that might help ease the Nets' minds somewhat.

It's allowed Shaun Livingston to consistently make people's heads turn in whiplash fashion. He's looked that good.

"He's been awesome," Paul Pierce said. "I knew Shaun has always had potential. I think he's finally back to his full strength, and when you put him around guys, the cast of guys that we have, it only makes him look better. And he's gaining confidence by the day."

Five preseason games into his Nets career, Livingston already seems like a steal as Williams' understudy. With Williams sidelined with a sprained right ankle, Livingston quickly has become one of the team's top distributors, also proving he can score, rebound and defend.

He's had a few nifty dunks, made a handful of eye-popping passes and contorted his 6-7, 175-pound frame in ways that show he's cleared any mental hurdles from that gruesome injury in 2007, when he tore three of four ligaments in his left knee. The Clippers' team physician said it's probably the most serious knee injury one can suffer.

"I'm pushing, man, every day," Livingston said. "You can never stop learning, never stop trying to get better. I'm working. I'm humbled to be here, but at the same time, it's an opportunity and I want to be aggressive . . . My teammates, my coaches, they have confidence in me. So now it's up to me.''

Livingston, 28, has taken a liking to his new coach, Jason Kidd. After a productive 2012-13 campaign with the Cavaliers, Livingston could have returned to Cleveland, and he also fielded offers from Dallas and Utah. But after chatting with Kidd, plus knowing he'd be backing up Williams and helping to lead the second unit, Livingston was sold.

"Absolutely," Livingston said. "Coach Kidd, he brought me in with the faith and confidence, and just the way we think about the game, the way we approach the game. Obviously, I respect his game and everything he's done, and just from a mental standpoint, an IQ standpoint, he understands how I approach the game and what I have to do to continue to play at a high level, because of maybe my lack of athleticism from the injury."

Williams can see Livingston building the necessary cohesion. It takes time for a point guard to learn each player's tendencies, and Livingston is meshing with everyone rapidly.

"We are definitely comfortable with Shaun," Williams said. "I think he's done a great job in preseason, in practice. He's a pass-first point guard who knows how to run the team and take care of the ball, so I think he's perfect for the makeup of this team and he's been doing a great job in my absence."

Though it's been nice sliding into Williams' role temporarily, Livingston is going to be charged with the task of engineering a unit loaded with guys who fully believe they could be starting on one of the other 29 teams. He's excited when he thinks about guiding a group that includes Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Jason Terry and Reggie Evans.

"We talked about it coming in with some of the guys," Livingston said. "I mean, I played with Andray. I know Alan Anderson, battled against 'Jet' all those years when he was in Dallas and I was in L.A. Everybody knows A.K. So we've got a lot of guys that can play. Guys know that we can play.

"That's the key. We know we have proven guys. So coming in here at practice, we battle. Guys respect each other, but we respect the game. We play hard. I mean, man, we look at it as an opportunity, but it's exciting also. It's an exciting opportunity. We understand the platform.''

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