Utah Jazz: Shelvin Mack Could Be the Answer at Point Guard

Mar 13, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) is defended by Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) during an NBA game at Sleep Train Arena. The Jazz defeated the Kings 108-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) is defended by Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) during an NBA game at Sleep Train Arena. The Jazz defeated the Kings 108-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

While point guard play has been a problem for the Utah Jazz this season, the solution may already be on the roster in Shelvin Mack.

For several seasons now, seemingly since the Deron Williams trade in 2011, the Utah Jazz have lacked the presence of a true floor general.

Despite their redeeming qualities, Devin Harris and Mo Williams were past their primes. The same could be said for Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson, who were relied upon much more heavily than they should have been by then-coach Tyrone Corbin because, really, he had no other choice at the time.

The point guard situation has become even more dire in recent years. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has remarked that the team needs more production from the position on several occasions as the Jazz offense has struggled under the direction of young point-men like Trey Burke, Dante Exum and Raul Neto.

While he’s been a hard worker and a true professional in his time with Utah, Burke’s limitations caused him to lose his starting position, his minutes and, eventually, his spot in the rotation altogether. In the team’s last nine games, he’s had four DNP-CDs and it looks as though his time with the Jazz is coming to an end.

Neto has been a pleasant surprise for the Jazz this season, averaging 6.2 points in 19 minutes per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point range. However, many expected him to spend much of this season in the D-League before injuries necessitated his minutes.

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What he’s done for the team this year has been admirable, but he’s probably some years away from being the starting point guard for a playoff team in the NBA.

Then there is Exum, the team’s presumed point guard of the future. He may have been able to begin fulfilling his potential this season, but an ACL tear quickly put a halt to that. Furthermore, there are no guarantees about what kind player he’ll be when he returns from the injury in 2016-17.

So what’s the solution to the team’s quarterback conundrum? Are we banking on Exum to come back strong and develop into a star? Perhaps free agency is the answer; premiere point guards like Mike Conley and Rajon Rondo will be available this summer.

Allow me to propose an alternative solution–maybe the answer is already on the roster. He might even be helping the Jazz keep pace in the playoff race right now. Of course, I’m talking about Shelvin Mack.

After being a lost man in Atlanta behind the Hawks’ two-headed point guard monster of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, Mack has found new life with the Jazz. Moreover, Mack has been a key cog in the team winning five of its last six games to get themselves back into contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

In 16 games with the Jazz, Mack is averaging nearly 13 points and six assists per contest. He’s also shooting 45 percent from the field and nearly 47 percent from three-point range. Solid numbers indeed, but Mack is also emerging as one of the team’s vocal leaders.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder talked about this leadership after the team’s Sunday night win over the Milwaukee Bucks. From the Deseret News–

"“I can remember Shelvin said, ‘Hey, let’s get three stops in a row,’ and Gordon responded to the same thing and they talked as a group. I think collectively they all picked it up. It can’t just be one guy. Rudy anchored us. Fav was making plays. Both Gordon and Rodney were playing too.”"

This show of leadership is just one example of the positive effect Mack has on his Jazz teammates. It’s an effect that is quantifiable statistically as well as anecdotally.

Of Jazz lineups having played at least 60 minutes together, the lineup of Mack with fellow starters Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert leads the team with a net rating of just under 14. In other words, the Mack-led starting five is outscoring opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions.

As impressive as Mack has been throughout his Jazz tenure, he’s currently playing his best basketball of the season. During the current five wins in six games stretch, he’s upped his averages to 16.8 points and 8.7 assists per game and is shooting over 50 percent from the floor and approaching 60 percent from distance.

Ultimately, Exum may still be the Jazz point guard of the future, but what if he isn’t? Or what if it takes him an extended amount of time to recover from his knee injury or to develop into the point guard many envision him becoming?

In either case, Mack may be just the player the Jazz need to step into the starting role and steer the Jazz ship as the team looks to shirk the role of a fringe playoff team and become a contender in the west.

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His Jazz sample size is only 16 games now, but with 12 games remaining and a potential playoff berth hanging in the balance, Mack will definitely get the chance to prove his play in a Jazz uniform is more than a simple hot streak.

The jury is still out and Lindsey will undoubtedly consider every scenario as relates to the point guard position, but if his recent performance is any indication, Mack may just be able to cement his spot on the team.

Not just for next season, but for the years to come.