PORTLAND, Ore. — Shelvin Mack had just finished practicing with his Atlanta Hawks teammates last Thursday when his coach gave him some news.
Mack, who’d been in Atlanta for three years, was being traded to the Utah Jazz.
“I was kind of shocked,” Mack admitted Sunday in his first interview with Utah media.
Mack, the former Butler standout guard, was far from being a malcontent with his sparse playing time in Atlanta, but he took a positive spin on getting a new NBA home. After all, the Jazz were in need of improved point guard play and the Hawks are set with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.
“I felt like it’s a great opportunity to come here (in Utah). I was kind of shocked and happy at the same time,” Mack said. “I get a chance to play behind two great point guards in Atlanta with Jeff and Dennis. It will give me a new life and a new opportunity.”
Mack, whom the Jazz acquire for a future second-rounder, certainly seized that opportunity in Sunday’s game.
The 6-foot-3 guard made an immediate impact after surprisingly getting the call to enter in the first quarter.
The Jazz trailed 11-2 when he checked in for starting point guard Raul Neto at the 6:56 mark.
They led 21-13 — having gone on a 17-0 run — by the time Trey Burke gave him a breather five and a half minutes later.
“I hadn’t planned to play him that early in the quarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I knew I wanted to play him. The way the game was we were down (11-2), I just felt like there was a window there and felt like maybe he could give us something, and he did. That was good to see.”
Mack, who only averaged 7.5 minutes in 24 appearances in Atlanta (less than half of its games), finished with season-highs in minutes played (24), points (16) and assists (six). He also had three rebounds, a blocked shot and held his own against Damian Lillard, who still ended up with 31 points in Portland's 115-111 win.
It was one of the best performances by a Jazz point guard in 55 games this season.
“He played really well for us. It’s a very, very tough thing to do,” said Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, Mack’s old teammate at Butler. “I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been traded. I can just imagine being traded in the middle of the season and having to come into a new system with new teammates and all that, and he played tremendous despite all that.”
Before making his Jazz debut, Mack said he anticipated that he’d have an “easy transition coming here” because of his relationship with Snyder in Atlanta — not to mention, of course, his friendship with Hayward.
“(Coach) helped me out a lot, especially with the pick-and-roll. That was the year I played the most in Atlanta,” Mack said of the 2013-14 season when he averaged career-highs of 7.5 points and 3.7 assists. “He helped me with my footwork, just breaking down the game, seeing different things. The work we did before the game, that helped me out a lot.”
Mack said Snyder’s advice to him now that he’s in Utah was simple.
“Just do what I do, be me, don’t try to do something that I’m not capable of doing,” he said. “Just come in, play defense and just play hard.”
So far, so good.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mack said his favorite memory with Hayward happened in New Zealand, not at Butler. In 2009, the two Butler standouts were on a gold-medal winning Under-19 USA Basketball squad that won the FIBA world championship.
“The best one would be playing on the U-19 team, going to New Zealand,” he said when asked about his favorite Hayward memory. “We were out there for a month, just hanging out and competing for the country.”
Both Hayward and Mack share a love for video games, but they don’t play against each other.
“We played different video games,” Mack said. “He likes to shoot and I’m more (into) sports.”