ATLANTA – Wearing a Butler University hoodie sweatshirt, Shelvin Mack walked out of the Atlanta Hawks’ player’s lounge carrying a heavy box filled with a few a belongings after Friday’s morning shootaround at Philips Arena.
Mack was simply taking the items back to his apartment to keep his locker stall from getting cluttered. He was going to return in a few hours to face the team that actually made him pack up and leave two times in the span of four months last season. And after leading a second-half rally that came up short two weeks ago in Washington, Mack would like to have a different result this time against the Wizards.
“You always want to beat your former team,” Mack said, “but every game in the NBA is important.”
Mack could’ve easily gotten down and fretted his future in the NBA when the Wizards waived him 13 months ago, ending a brief and unlikely reunion with the organization that drafted him 34th overall in 2011. He had two stints with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League, latched on for two 10-day contracts with the Philadelphia 76ers, and waited for another before landing in Atlanta.
“I was able to stick to it, keep working,” Mack said. “Whenever you go through tough times, it lets you find out who you are and find out different things about yourself. But I always felt that I had the confidence to play in the NBA and be a good player. I put in the work. So I wasn’t really too worried about a few games ruining my whole season. I was able to stick to it and find my way here.”
Mack is finally getting the chance to showcase his abilities in Atlanta, where he is starting to thrive under Coach Mike Budenholzer. The 6-foot-3 point guard is averaging career highs of 6.8 points, 3.3 assists and 40.7 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line. He had a career-high 17 points in a loss to Oklahoma City this week and also dished out a career-high 12 assists in a Nov. 16 win over the New York Knicks.
“Shelvin’s been really good,” Budenholzer said. “It sounds like a simplistic thing, but he’s a real competitor. He brings a competitiveness to the game and an energy to the game that has helped us. In addition to that, he’s played well defensively, he really gets after it. he can bother people on the defensive end of the floor. His attention to detail on defense is very good. And then on the offensive end of the floor, he’s playing with great pace and good purpose, scoring when it’s right to score and hitting the right guy as well and obviously making some shots.”
Mack was part of a disappointing Wizards’ draft class which yielded three players who will not be under contract with the organization after this season. Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely both found out in late October that they weren’t a part of the franchise’s future plans, but Mack had the message delivered twice last season – during training camp, when he was cut in favor of Jannero Pargo; and again in January, when he cut in favor of Garrett Temple.
Despite the chilly treatment as he attempted to learn how to transition from being a scorer in college to a more prototypical point guard, Mack holds no resentment toward the Wizards. He had dinner with Vesely on Thursday night and remains in contract with Singleton and John Wall.
“I wouldn’t say the opportunity wasn’t there. They had a lot of playmakers, so it was hard trying to fit in and see where you’re going to get shots. You had John, being a playmaker. Jordan Crawford. Nick [Young]. A lot of guys were playmakers and needed the ball a lot,” Mack said. In Atlanta, “we’ve got me, Jeff [Teague], and Lou [Williams] the primary playmakers, so we are in position to make plays coming off the pick and roll and shoot. Here, it’s more for the point guard to be aggressive. In DC, you’re more setting up guys.”
When the Wizards beat the Hawks, 108-101, two weeks ago at Verizon Center, Mack finished with 11 points and a career-high four steals and helped his team rally from an 18-point deficit and get back within two points.
“It actually showed me that I was able to do that. Gave me confidence to believe I could do that,” said Mack, who is averaging 10.6 points and 4.8 assists in his past five games. “I never got to do that before. It’s also being aggressive. Coach wants us to do that and it’s easy to play that way.
“The coach and my teammates have a lot of trust in me, getting me confidence to just go out there and make the plays,” Mack said. “I just go out there and play ball. You can say my teammates have more confidence, they are not hesitant. They are giving me the ball in situations such as the fourth quarter and they are allowing me to make the shot and I’ve been able to do that.”
Mack always kept a steady hand with the ball, even in Washington, but he has been extremely trustworthy in Atlanta with an assist to turnover ratio of 4.73-to-1 – which would be tops in the NBA if he had appeared in enough games to quality. “I’ve called him kind of a young veteran,” Budenholzer said. “He plays like a guy who has been in the league 10 years or something like that. I think anytime a young player plays with that kind of poise and that kind of understanding, it’s a little bit of a surprise.”
“He’s playing big-time,” Wall said of Mack. “I’m very happy and excited for him that he found a place.”