By John Denton
July 12, 2017
ORLANDO – Shelvin Mack was a part of a 30-win team as a high school senior, his Butler Bulldogs pulled off a modern-day version of “Hoosiers’’ by reaching consecutive national championship games, he was a solid contributor on an Atlanta Hawks team that won 60 games in the 2014-15 season and, most recently, he helped the Utah Jazz break through to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Mack, 28, prides himself tremendously on being a winner and he sees no reason why the Orlando Magic can’t be winners in the immediate future.
“I can bring a winning attitude,’’ said Mack, who signed a free-agent contract with the Magic on Sunday. “The past four seasons I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve played with all-stars and max (contract) players and I’ve been able to mix in with all kinds of players. I’m a leader and I feel like I can get the best out of guys. I can be one of those guys who can talk to (Magic center Nikola) Vucevic and get him to do something that we need him to do.
“I feel like I know how to communicate with every guy on the team, and on playoff teams, you need a guy like that,’’ he added. “I can communicate with the guys not playing and keep them involved and keep everybody happy. So I take a lot of pride in being a winner and a team-first guy.’’
The Magic acquired Mack’s winning pedigree and his gritty, tough-minded mindset to provide depth at the point guard position. Elfrid Payton has been the starter each of the past three seasons, while D.J. Augustin was signed last July to be the primary backup at the point. Orlando waived C.J. Watson on July 10 to make room for Mack, a six-year NBA veteran who has played for the Wizards, 76ers, Hawks and Jazz. He is quite familiar with an Orlando core of Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Payton and he thinks the squad is much closer to being a playoff team than last season’s 29-53 record suggests.
“They’ve got really good talent and the sky’s the limit for a lot of those guys,’’ Mack said of Orlando’s roster. “I’ve seen teams like this before. When I first got to the Jazz, (center) Rudy (Gobert) was still young and now this year he was up for (Defensive) Player of the Year. This (Magic) group has the potential to be great, but they’ve just got to keep working and getting better every day. In this league, a lot of people don’t realize that success doesn’t come overnight. It took (Kevin Durant) nine years to get to that (championship) level. You can’t get discouraged and you have to keep working.’’
Mack, a 6-foot-3, 203-pounder capable of playing either guard slot, has averaged 6.3 points and 2.9 assists a game over his NBA career. Last season, he averaged 7.8 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 55 games (nine starts) for Utah. The best stretch of his career came over the final 28 games of the 2015-16 after he was traded from Atlanta to Utah when he averaged 12.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds – all career highs.
Mack is thought to be a plus defender who makes up for his lack of height with his strength, toughness and high basketball IQ. Offensively, he is a fearless driver who converted 44.6 percent of his field goals last season. However, he struggled shooting from deep last season, making just 30.8 percent of his 3-point shots. He is a 32.1 percent 3-point shooter in his career.
Much of the statistical measurements pale in comparison to the intangible qualities that Mack can bring to a team in the form of leadership and maturity. He will be looked to as a mentor for the likes of Payton, Gordon and Hezonja. It’s a role that he has been very familiar with – and successful with – throughout his NBA career.
“I put in a lot of hard work and my track record shows that I’m willing to sacrifice to win,’’ Mack said. “Of the teams that I’ve been on, a lot of those players were willing to sacrifice and everyone benefited from it and got paid. From this past year in Utah to my 60-win team in Atlanta – everybody benefited from Kyle (Korver) to Al (Horford) to Paul (Millsap) to (Jeff) Teague and all the way down to Dennis (Schroder), DeMarre (Carroll) and Kent Bazemore. We all benefitted financially and with basketball, getting a bigger role. We all enjoyed playing together and we were all about winning.’’
Winning was the reason given for standout forward Gordon Hayward leaving the Utah Jazz to go and play for the Boston Celtics. The transaction was of particular interest to Mack because the Celtics are coached by Brad Stevens – his former coach at Butler – and he and Hayward were teammates in college and with the Jazz.
Mack, a native of Lexington, Ky., helped tiny Butler remarkably reach NCAA national title games in 2010 and 2011 where they lost a two-point decision to Duke and fell a season later to Connecticut on a cold-shooting night. Mack sees the reunion of Butler pals, Stevens and Hayward, as “a good fit’’ and motivated by Hayward “putting himself in a position to make a deep run in the playoffs.’’
Mack thinks Orlando could make a run at the playoffs because of all the uncertainty in the Eastern Conference. Paul George (Oklahoma City), Jimmy Butler (Minnesota), Millsap (Denver) and Brook Lopez (L.A. Lakers) moved from East to West, and all-star forward Carmelo Anthony could soon be dealt to Houston to deepen the exodus of talent.
“I think we have a chance,’’ Mack said. “This situation reminds me of my first year in Atlanta when we had a group of guys who teams didn’t want or had been passed up. We kept working and we played Coach Vogel’s (Indiana team) in the first round (of the playoffs) as the eighth seed and the next year we came back as the No. 1 seed.
“We have enough good young guys here in Orlando and as we keep working I expect an improvement from last year’s record,’’ he added. “We get better each day and I feel like we’ve got a chance to make the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference after a lot of the talent and big-named players have headed West.’’
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