Shelvin Mack and Cause for Hope

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Injuries to John Wall and Jannero Pargo have decimated the Wizards' point guard rotation. Will Shelvin Mack be able to rise to the occasion?

Shelvin Mack's life just got a lot more interesting. John Wall's knee and Jannero Pargo's ribs have thrust the former Butler star into a far more prominent role with the team. A month ago, there was a decent chance he wouldn't make the opening day active roster. Now? He could very well be Washington's starting point guard in the team's season opener in Cleveland.

A.J. Price has more NBA experience than Mack, but Mack's defense, lesser propensity to force bad shots and familiarity with the team's personnel and playbook should make him a better option. Fans and management seem to, rightfully, be uncomfortable with this. Mack struggled throughout his rookie season and was primarily a scoring guard at Butler. A Summer League in which he frequently had trouble handling the ball only added to these doubts about his viability as even a back up point guard at the NBA level.

Mack was actually a decent distributor and defender last year. He didn't create a lot of offense, but he had a good assist to turnover ratio (6.1 assists to 2.2 turnovers per 36 minutes) had some success as a pick and roll operator (107th in the league in points per possession, as per MySynergySports), plus he's a clever enough ball handler to get to the line at a decent clip. Perhaps more significantly, he was a rookie playing a position with a very steep learning curve who managed to nonetheless be fairly productive (his PER of 11.9 was 27th among rookies last year, technically outpacing lottery pick Brandon Knight). In short, he actually is capable of running an NBA basketball team, and he'll only get better with experience.

Shooting is what truly torpedoed Mack's season last year, as his true shooting percentage of 46.8 percent was abysmal, even for a youngster, and his 28.7% mark from behind the arc was actually worse than John Wall's rookie year percentage. He has decent form on his jumper, but with low percentages from everywhere except the restricted area and no track record as a particularly good shooter in college, there's little reason to believe last year's performance was somehow an outlier.

Fortunately for Washington, he doesn't shoot a lot. Mack's a smart player who never forces the issue, so he can almost get away with being such a poor shot maker. It's not a guarantee, not by any means, but Washington's offense could conceivably function with Mack at the point running lots of pick and rolls with Seraphin -- a brutal enough screener that even a limited athlete like Mack will be able to get to the basket after having his defender floored by the 260 pound Frenchman - and Nene. Mack's demonstrated the ability to hit the open man, too, so he should be able to set up Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza from time to time, even if he's not as good at it as Wall.

Washington's offense won't fall apart with Mack at the helm. He's an individually bad scorer, but he actually does make his teammates better, and that's far more important than whether or not he misses one or two shots a night that Pargo might have made. Even last year, with an offense built around a playmaking point guard, the team scored only 1 fewer point per 48 minutes and was 4.2 points better(!) per 48 minutes with Mack on the court.

Shelvin Mack isn't someone who you would want as your opening day starting point guard. He could continue to underperform this season, and the odds are stacked against him. However, the team could do a whole lot worse than a high character guy who defends and distributes at a decent clip. Washington should have a rough few weeks without Wall at the helm, but if they beat expectations and win a few games, quietly solid play from Mack could be one of the key reasons.

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