With the absence of Al Horford for the season because of injury, it would be an understatement to say the Atlanta Hawks are lacking in star power. Sure, Jeff Teague is continuing to improve as a point guard and has reached a level where he is a borderline All-Star, and Paul Millsap remains to be one of the league’s most underrated and outstanding performers. Could either player be considered as a franchise cornerstone though? With both players probably feeling like they came out of last season’s free agency underpaid, the answer is apparently no. The Hawks are currently sitting fourth in the East as they have emphasized a team-first philosophy that has allowed role players to step up and thrive. Not many have upped their game quite as much as Shelvin Mack though.
Wind the clock back just more than three months and 23-year-old Shelvin Mack couldn’t have been sure of where, or even if, he’d be playing his basketball in the NBA this season. Since being drafted with the 34th pick of the 2011 draft, Mack has struggled to find his feet in the big league. In college, he was a key member of the Brad Stevens Butler Bulldogs team that, against the odds, reached back-to-back national championship games. Yet that wasn’t enough to allay the fears of many general managers who didn’t feel that the Kentucky native was cut out for an NBA career. The Wizards were the team to take a gamble on the man who, as more of a scoring point guard, had successfully ran a high quality college team. The relationship between team and player was far from stable though, and Mack found himself frequently switching between Washington and the D-League’s Maine Red Claws.
In three separate spells with the Red Claws, Mack worked exceptionally hard to improve his game. He became more of a leader on the floor and tweaked his style to make his game more NBA ready. His graft has payed off too, as the results have been on display on the floor. Mack made the D-League’s All Star team in 2013 and following a brief spell in Philadelphia, found his way to Atlanta. Following two 10-day contracts at the tail end of last year, the Hawks signed Mack for the remainder of the season before inviting him to training camp this season as a non-guaranteed contract. With promising rookie Dennis Schroeder and veteran Royal Ivey to compete with, many suspected Mack had once again run out of luck, but an impressive preseason earned him the final spot on the Hawks roster. Since the season started, Mack has consistently outperformed the German rookie Schroeder, meaning he know finds himself as the team’s primary back up option at the point guard spot.
Mack has earned both minutes and head coach Mike Budenholzer’s trust because of a variety of factors. His reliability is second to none. One of the key components of a top quality point guard’s game is efficient usage of possession. Mack has become an accomplished passer and assist man, yet he rarely turns the ball over. In 19 minutes per game, the former Bulldog is averaging 3.6 assists to every 1.1 turnovers. This is good enough for an assist to turnover ratio of 3.29, leaving him ranked eighth among point guards and 16th overall.
Mack also continues to show the type of scoring range he displayed in college. He’s capable of shooting three’s and long two’s, as well as penetrating for free throws or easy layups. In his 19.4 minutes, Mack is averaging 7.7 points, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from deep. This leaves him with an EFG of 50.8 percent,while his true shooting is up around the 53 percent mark. Taking a quick look at his shot chart, it’s clear that Mack isn’t imperious from the floor, but nonetheless he seems to be aware of where the best spots for him to shoot are.
In his previous two games in Jeff Teague’s temporary absence, Mack has further improved upon his regular numbers. He’s averaging 12 points and 5.5 assists in this small sample size as a starter, and this could be the building block needed to advance his game further. Whether in Atlanta or elsewhere, there is every chance that Mack will become a long term starter for a team. For the moment though, let’s enjoy the firepower and composure he provides coming straight off the bench.