Shelvin Mack has finally found a home in Atlanta. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
Mack finally finds home
By Jon Cooper
Shelvin Mack will never be confused with Ivan Johnson.
Mack stands 6'3", 215 pounds, Johnson 6'8", 255 pounds.
Mack is clean-cut and is seldom without a smile. Johnson wears a beard and prefers more of a sneer (we're talking on the court, here).
Mack will shoot the three and drive the lane, taking his share of elbows. Johnson defers from the three, protects the lane and, in that pursuit, has given out an elbow or two…often to guys like Mack.
Yet Mack and Johnson do have something in common.
Following Atlanta's 97-88 victory over Orlando at Philips Arena on March 30, Hawks Coach Larry Drew linked them, calling Mack, "a mini version of Ivan Johnson."
"I did say that in the fact that when [Mack's] in there he just plays hard," Drew said. "Everybody knows what Ivan's reputation is. He's a hard worker. He plays hard. Shelvin is very similar at the perimeter position. He gets up, pressures the ball, he's aggressive with his rotations. Those type guards, I have appreciation for."
Mack laughed when first told of the comparison, but validated his coach's analogy.
"I can see the similarities," the 22-year-old Lexington, Ky. native, who turns 23 on April 22, said. "[Johnson] does a great job of coming in and providing energy. Sometimes we get off to a slow start. He's just going to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
The Hawks felt Mack brings enough to the team that they signed him to a non-guaranteed two-year deal on March 26.
With a left-foot injury continuing to plague Devin Harris, Drew remembered the impression the second-year guard had made on him while playing with the Washington Wizards.
"When we needed to bring a guard in, his name came up," Drew said. "When they told me how well he had been playing in the D-League I thought it would be good to bring him in and to give him a shot. The thing that really impresses me the most about him is he really works at it. He works at it hard. I have a strong appreciation for those type guys who spent some time on this level, then they have had to go back to D-League, then they work their way back to this point. How hard he works, his instincts, you can tell he really enjoys playing and he's a fast learner. All the things we threw at him early, when he got to our club under those 10-day contracts, he picked them up right away. I was very impressed with that. He plays like he's not trying to fit in. He plays like he belongs, and I respect that about him."
Mack worked hard to earn that respect. A three-year star at Butler University, where he played in a pair of NCAA Championship games (he actually had an opportunity to catch up with his college coach, Brad Stevens, who was in town during Final Four Week), he was selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft by Washington (No. 34 overall). After averaging 3.6 points and 2.0 assists in 12.2 minutes over 64 games as a rookie, Mack started the 2012-13 season with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League. He'd work his magic while there.
"I was just trying to take it with a positive attitude. Just come in, grind, work hard every day to get better," Mack, who averaged 20.1 points on 45.4 percent shooting, 36.5 percent from three, 87.5 percent from the line, with 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 40.3 minutes over 23 games (22 starts), said. "Fortunately, it was a great situation for me in the D-League because it provided an opportunity to be seen by the Atlanta Hawks."
He'd be waived by the Wizards, then earn a pair of 10-day contracts in Philadelphia in January, but he would not earn staying power in Philly.
On March 6, the Hawks signed Mack. They liked what they saw in Washington and in Maine and have really liked what they've seen since bringing him in.
Mack feels more at home in Atlanta than in either Washington or Philadelphia and has played more games with the Hawks than he did with the Wizards (7) and 76ers (4), combined.
"It's about having the right fit and the right players around," said Mack, who celebrated his new contract on March 29, handing out a career-high nine assists (vs. two turnovers), while matching his career-high with 12 points at Boston. "I feel like this style of play fits me better. I have more opportunity. Unfortunately it has been because of injuries, with Devin resting his foot. It presented me with the opportunity to play. The game of basketball is all about competing. At this level, it's whoever is going to compete the most. It comes down to competing, who's playing hard. It's a pride thing also."
Mack has shown plenty of pride and bravado on the court — two assets in Drew's eyes.
"He doesn't shy away from anything," the Hawks' Coach said. "Particularly taking the shot or just situations that call for something to happen, he's not afraid to step forward."
Mack will try to step forward down the stretch, playing not only for pride but for Playoff position and then in the NBA Playoffs themselves. It's a validation of his hard play and even harder work and is an opportunity for which he's grateful.
"I'm thankful to be in the NBA right now," Mack, who has expressed the desire to one day be a fire fighter, said. "I'm just been blessed in being able to stay healthy and have great people around me to put me in position to be successful. Especially it being my second year in the League, to be able to experience this. I'm just trying to enjoy the process, but I'm going to keep working and try to put us in the best position when the playoffs come."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Second photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images