There are a number of definitive moments in Shelvin Mack’s professional basketball career.
He was drafted in the second round by the Washington Wizards in 2011. He was named an NBA Development League All-Star in 2013. He reached the Eastern Conference finals with the Atlanta Hawks in 2015, a feat not yet accomplished by many notable players drafted ahead of him — Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris, to name a few.
But none revealed more about the Bryan Station graduate’s passion for the game than when he was traded for the first time on Feb. 18. The Hawks, whom he helped reach three straight playoffs, sent Mack to Utah as part of a three-team deal. That move reunited Mack with Gordon Hayward, his college teammate at Butler, and Quin Snyder, a former Hawks assistant who now coaches the Jazz.
It also proved to Mack that he was prepared for any situation the NBA could throw at him.
“The NBA is a hard business,” said Mack, who was in Lexington for a youth basketball camp. “You’ve gotta be a pro. Me getting traded basically shows that I’m a pro, that I’m always gonna work and be prepared. Because it happens in an instant.”
While referencing Tristan Thompson’s “Be a star in your role” quote after Cleveland’s win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Mack noted that constantly understanding and accepting his role has helped him succeed in the pro ranks. He primarily was a backup during brief stints with Washington and Philadelphia before firmly establishing himself as an off-the-bench playmaker in Atlanta.
As his minutes decreased with the Hawks this season, Mack could have sulked and pouted, which “would have messed me up as soon as I got to Utah,” he said. Keeping a positive attitude in Atlanta paid dividends with the Jazz, where he immediately assumed a starting role. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 assists for an upstart group vying for a playoff spot despite being sapped by injuries.
“I was a great fit for them,” Mack said. “I enjoyed it and I can’t wait to get back started.”
A 1-4 end-of-season stretch kept Utah from securing its first playoff berth since 2012, but a solid core — which includes former University of Kentucky star Trey Lyles — should keep fans in Salt Lake City happy for the immediate future. Mack’s $2.4 million contract for the 2016-17 season is non-guaranteed until July 8, at which point it would become fully honored. He said he’ll “more than likely” be back with the Jazz “unless something crazy happens.”
Had Mack been discontent during his time on the bench in Atlanta, the opportunity to start for his former assistant coach may never have materialized.
“You never know where someone’s gonna be at in the NBA,” Mack said. “I could have been pouting and complaining to him about not playing while I was in Atlanta, and then two years later he’s the head coach of the Jazz and he’d have that stuck in his brain.”
Instead, the impression Mack left was of a 6-foot-3, 210-pound bulldog of a point guard whose game is more substance than style. Snyder’s quote about the deal for Mack was even more understated. “We traded for him because we thought he could help us,” the coach told the Salt Lake Tribune in February.
Now entering his sixth year as a pro, the only Lexington native currently active in the NBA aims to keep helping in whatever capacity asked of him, and leaving good impressions in the minds of all he crosses paths with.
“There’s a lot of guys in Kentucky and Lexington who didn’t get the same opportunity that I got,” Mack said. “I’m trying to make the most of it and let everyone know that you’ve got a chance if you work hard and make the right decisions.”