Just two short weeks ago, all the Utah Jazz talk swirled around the impending trade deadline. While names like Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Ty Lawson were oft-mentioned by media members and fans alike, the team did not participate in a high profile swap like a few had predicted or some hoped for. Instead, the Jazz obtained the Atlanta Hawks’ third point guard, Shelvin Mack. Not a glamorous move at all, even when compared to a relatively modest trade deadline around the league. In fact, few around the NBA paid much attention to the transaction and some Jazz faithful ho-hummed it.
Now, it appears to be a subtle, underrated move that could have impact this season and next. It is still early yet, but the returns thus far have been quite encouraging.
Upon his arrival, Mack wasted no time. First, he burst onto the scene with a 16-point, six-assist explosion in his Jazz debut. Second, head coach Quin Snyder tabbed him the new starter in just his second outing. He has opened for Utah the past four outings. In the span of a mere five games, Mack has gone from Atlanta’s third best point guard to Utah’s best. Those are the types of trades that unsung players long for — the coveted change of scenery move that is full of potential and opportunity.
So far, Mack is making the most of it. Let us take a quick look at how he is faring, his strengths and weaknesses, and his prospects moving forward.
The numbers have been solid. Mack is averaging 13.0 PPG on 50 percent shooting, while chipping in 2.8 APG, 2.2 RPG and 1.0 APG in 28.0 MPG. Those numbers may not strike fear in opponents, but they are respectable and given Utah’s point guard production — which has been solid at times, but very inconsistent — they have helped substantially.
What has he brought to the table? First, he has been surprisingly good offensively. Mack has demonstrated the ability to not only get to the basket, but to finish. He is shooting 66.7 percent inside, which would be third best on the team. His floater has been a very welcome and effective move, especially when the offense is stagnating. Mack has a crafty knack for getting this shot when he wants. As a result, over 35 percent of his shots are coming 3-10 feet out, wherein he is connecting on a team-high 63.2 percent. That is a nice development to see.
Mack’s perimeter shooting has not been as pleasant, which, frankly, has not been too surprising. He has made just four of 13 3-pointers, or 30.8 percent — right near his career mark. He will probably never been an above-average marksmen, but he can be solid enough to warrant some defensive attention. Mack is not afraid to shoot them. His late triple against the Boston Celtics was an absolutely clutch shot.
Mack has had his moments as a play maker, with that first game being his best as a facilitator. It is evident that is learning on the job. His turnovers have been uncharacteristically high when compared to his career. Mack actually has more miscues than assists, which is less than ideal. It will take some time for him to get a feel for his teammates’ games and where they like to get the ball. 11 of his 15 turnovers have been bad passes. It will simply require more time. While he will never post gaudy assist numbers, he has been solid throughout his career. One can expect he will become the same in Utah. Chances are, things will settle down as he gains familiarity.
So far, Mack has added a much needed physical option in the back court — something that could be important down the stretch. Perhaps the biggest thing Utah is missing in Dante Exum’s absence is his elite defensive abilities. Exum was extremely effective on that end, showing the potential to be a very good stopper. While Mack does not possess Exum’s incredible length, his stout 6’3″, 203-lb frame helps provide much more of a presence against bigger point guards than either Raul Neto or Trey Burke.
Speaking of which, it appears that Burke is the odd man out as Snyder settles into a two-man rotation of Mack and Neto. This speaks to Snyder’s trust in Mack, going back to their days together in Atlanta. It also has to be disappointing for Burke who was the starter just one year ago.
Now, some good news and some bad news. The bad: opponents will start to better prepare for Mack’s game, especially as they see how he continues to fit in with Utah. Now, the good: as he gets more acclimated, he will most likely become more confident and comfortable. After their current road trip, the Jazz should have some practice time. That could speeden up the processes.
In analyzing Mack’s performance thus far, it should definitely be remembered that it cost Utah just a second-round pick and some available cap space. If he continues his strong play, this move could prove to be yet another steal by general manager Dennis Lindsey1
It should also be noted that he was not obtained to be the long-term starter. Mack is the stop gap for this season, but these final two months as the starter will provide him a lot of experience and opportunity. With just a $2.4 million salary next season, he could be a very good back-up when Exum returns. Snyder will have options between Mack, Neto and Burke, depending on who is still in a Jazz uniform next season.
Five games does not a season make, but the Jazz have to be pleased with what Shelvin Mack has brought to the table. There are areas where he needs to improve, but the positives outweigh those. So far, so good.