By Josh Cohen
July 18, 2017
ORLANDO — Shelvin Mack knows what it takes to be an elite defensive team.
He was part of an Atlanta Hawks team that dramatically changed their identity. In Mack’s final season-and-a-half in Atlanta, the Hawks transformed into arguably the most cohesive defensive squad in the NBA. They ranked in the top five in opponent field goal percentage during this span.
Following a midseason trade to Utah in 2016, Mack helped the Jazz institute a similar defensive approach. Last season, Utah ranked in the top 10 in nearly every defensive statistical category, including opponent field goal percentage inside the 3-point line and opponent assists and rebounds.
Since his college days playing for Brad Stevens at Butler, Mack has always been known for his defensive grit, toughness and tenacity. A second-round draft pick in 2011 by the Washington Wizards, Mack has backed up this reputation in the NBA with a relentless attempt to outhustle and outwork his opponents.
Now, after signing a two-year contract with the Orlando Magic, Mack hopes his experience on teams with strong defensive character carries over into his new home.
“I take pride in coming in and competing every night, throughout the 82-game season,” he said. “I feel like when you are able to do that on a consistent basis people respect you. I think I just work hard.”
“Coaches would make the case that a lot of defense is just how hard you play, how badly you want it,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “I do think that (Mack and Jonathon Simmons’ defensive abilities and persistence) will help change the complexion of the team.”
Mack’s best stretch individually came in 2016 when he averaged 12.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 28 games for the Jazz. He started 27 of those contests and kept Utah in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season.
Frank Vogel will be juggling a trio of point guards when the 2017-18 season tips off. Elfrid Payton, the assumed starter who finished last season very well, is the Magic’s most talented passer and playmaker. D.J. Augustin, who has a knack for initiating contact and knocking down shots from 3-point range, was often one of the first to come off the bench last year. And now with Mack, Orlando has a more proven and established defensive-minded floor general to lean on.
Mack’s prior playoff experience should also come in handy for the Magic. While in a limited role, Mack was a valuable reserve for the Hawks when they advanced to the conference finals in 2015. He had a similar effect for the Jazz last year when they eliminated the Clippers in a wild back-and-forth seven-game series and then fought hard in the next round against the eventual-champion Warriors. Mack scored in double figures in the final three games of that series against Golden State.
“It starts in September right after Labor Day,” he said when asked what it takes to turn the corner and become a playoff team. “You want to start getting in shape now and not wait to the preseason. Take it one step at a time. Build your habits, when you do that you are able to build yourself a great foundation to make a deep run.”
The 6’3, 203-pounder also played in back-to-back NCAA Title games in 2010 and 2011. In three years at Butler, Mack averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists.