When the Wizards showed up for shootaround at Madison Square Garden in New York late in the season, Shelvin Mack was the last player to step off the elevator and trailed his teammates by dragging along an equipment bag. Mack was simply handling his responsibilities as a rookie, but he admitted that he didn’t have to endure too much hazing in his first year with the Wizards.
“Carried a bag or two, that’s about it,” Mack said. “I had a great rookie year.”
Plucked in the second round with the 34th pick, Mack was the last player Washington selected last June. First-round picks Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely received more playing time and produced slightly better numbers, but Mack was perhaps the consistent. He even finished with a highest player efficiency rating of the trio — 11.92 — and considers this season to be a triumph.
“I think it’s been a great year for me, personally. I’ve been able to learn a lot of lessons and I had a lot of ups and downs but I continually got better throughout the year,” Mack said. “I felt I could help out, but just keep coming in, working hard every day and when you do that, you’re going to have your opportunity. Try to take advantage of your opportunity. I felt I did that. I seized the moment.”
Mack is always one to look at the bright side and he maintained the same disposition whether he had a good game or a bad game this season. That kind of consistency helped Mack endure a difficult rookie campaign in which he was forced to adjust to several different situations — a condensed season, limited practices, a coaching change, a roster shakeup and a new position.
“It was very tough,” Mack said. “Especially body-wise, not being used to that. College, you play probably a max 35 games over probably six months. This year we played 66 games in four months, so that’s pretty tough for your body.”
While leading Butler to back-to-back NCAA title games, Mack was primarily a scorer, but he had to learn how to play point guard with the Wizards. Flip Saunders rarely gave him consistent minutes, but Coach Randy Wittman made him John Wall’s primary backup and wasn’t afraid to lean on him on the nights Wall struggled.
“Shelvin had his opportunity to be thrown into the wolves, had good stints and bad stints, but something I think he’s going to come out of it next year and you’re a whole different player after your rookie year, having played significant minutes and being a part of it,” Wittman said.
Mack was often a calming, steady alternative to the high-charged Wall, who finished second in the NBA in turnovers. He learned the importance of valuing the basketball at Butler, where Coach Brad Stephens made it a goal for the Bulldogs to have fewer than 10 turnovers a game. For a team that relied on its defense to win games, possessions could never be taken for granted.
“Just gets you in the mindset to take care of the ball,” Mack said. “I think it translated to this level.”
Mack was reliable with the ball, but he was also a little too passive when looking for his own shot. He averaged just 3.6 points and shot 40 percent from the floor, and said he would focus on his shooting this summer because, “The statistics aren’t very good.”
But at least Mack will have the benefit of a summer league and the opportunity to train with the coaching staff, which he was unable to do after getting drafted because of the lockout. It took a while for Mack to get comfortable in his role, but he eventually discovered that the best way to hold his own against other point guards is to stay on the attack.
“I feel like it’s the hardest position in the NBA, but if you come out and be aggressive, play like you’ve been in the NBA for a while, you’ll be all right,” Mack said. “The biggest thing I learned is, being aggressive. If you’re being aggressive, you can make plays for yourself and make plays for your teammates. Go to the rim, miss a layup, having someone come over to help provides an offensive rebound opportunity.”
Mack will be back next season, but Wall has already suggested the need to have a more experienced point guard around to guide them. Wall offered advice to Mack when he could, but Wall is still learning how to play as well. “It was tough, because basically, I’m the veteran guy to try to help Shelvin, and it would be better if we had a guy helping both of us out,” Wall said.
But Mack was grateful that he was allowed to learn on the fly. “I had an opportunity. The Wizards organization showed they believed in me, having me and John as the only point guards on the team, so I look at it as a success,” Mack said. “It went by really fast. I got a long offseason to work on things. Make sure you keep tuning up the game. Keep working hard and things are going to come.”