The Washington Wizards have decided to address their back court problems by signing a point guard who was cut in October for not being experienced enough to handle playmaking duties.
If that sounds confusing, imagine being Shelvin Mack late Saturday night, when the same organization that drafted 34th overall in 2011 and waived him 16 months later called and asked him to come back to run the show.
Mack had been tearing up the NBA Developmental League as a point guard for the Maine Red Claws, displaying the confidence and scoring ability that helped him lead Butler to back-to-back NCAA championship games and get selected in the second round two summers ago. He assumed some team would eventually call him back up to the big leagues, but he wasn’t necessarily expecting a reunion to Washington.
“I was kind of surprised it was the Wizards,” Mack said in a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon, “but I wasn’t surprised that I’m out of here so soon. I kind of figured something was going to happen pretty soon, the way I’ve been playing.”
And the Wizards had to do something, considering the way they’ve been playing. Off to the worst start in franchise history, the Wizards (3-22) created a roster spot for Mack — and fellow D-League call-up Garrett Temple — when they released power forward Earl Barron and point guard Shaun Livingston shortly after losing to the Detroit Pistons, 96-87, on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Mack intends to sign a non-guaranteed contract on Monday, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. John Wall’s primary backup last season as a rookie in Washington, Mack lost a training camp battle with veteran point guards A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo and was one of the last two cuts before opening day.
“I learned basketball is a business,” Mack said of his release. “It was kind of weird, but I couldn’t dwell on it. I felt another team would give me an opportunity. I felt I was always an NBA player. So I just moved on, stayed positive and never stopped working.”
In 10 games with Maine, Mack averaged 20.2 points, 7.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He claimed D-League player of the week honors earlier this month and attracted interest from several teams. Mack said he canceled a scheduled workout on Sunday with the Boston Celtics to return to the only NBA team he knows.
Going down to a lower level helped Mack’s confidence rise up.
“Big time,” Mack said when asked if the experience has helped him. “I’ve been playing 40-plus minutes, figuring out how to get guys in the right situations, when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive. I think it was good for me. I made a lot of strides and I think each month, I’ve been getting better and better.”
Mack won’t have too much trouble adjusting, as he is already familiar with Coach Randy Wittman’s system, has stayed in regular communication with Jan Vesely and Bradley Beal and was one of the more well-liked players on the team.
While Mack has improved, the point guard position has been a glaring problem for a Wizards team that has lost seven in a row and boasts the league’s most anemic offense. Wall remains out indefinitely as he recovers from a stress injury in his left knee and Price, the opening-night starter at point guard, has been out since Dec. 8, when he broke his right hand while battling for a rebound with Golden State rookie Harrison Barnes.
Jordan Crawford, a converted shooting guard, has filled in but his performances have been a mixed bag of extremes and the Wizards have failed to score at least 80 points in three of their past eight games — including a season-low 68 in a 32-point blowout loss on Friday to the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
On pace to set a new franchise mark for offensive futility at 88.8 points — the record is 91.2, set during the lockout-shortened season in 1998-99 — the Wizards are the only team in the NBA averaging fewer than 90 points a game.
“I think a lot of guys understand it’s not an easy position,” Wittman said recently. “That’s why that’s such a crucial position on a basketball team. I don’t care if you’re talking about junior high, high school, college or NBA. If you get good guard play you can compete. Doesn’t matter at what level. If you don’t, you can have the best big man in the world and if you don’t have good guard play you’re going to struggle.”
Livingston replaced Pargo on Nov. 15 and now Mack will replace the point guard who replaced the point guard who took his roster spot. That Barron and Livingston both started last Wednesday in Orlando and are already former Wizards speaks to the level of desperation for the team. But the return of Mack possibly says a little more.
“It’s a great Christmas gift. I’d rather be in D.C. than headed to Sioux Falls” in South Dakota, Mack said with a laugh, alluding to the Red Claws’ next opponent. “I’m excited to get another opportunity to come in and play. Hopefully, we can just get on the same page and try to get some wins.”