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Shelvin Mack stood against the blue and yellow Utah Jazz backdrop on Monday afternoon. He had just finished putting up shots following an intense practice. He was confident in his movements, seemingly entrenched as coach Quin Snyder's starting point guard.
He's been with the Jazz for less than three weeks. And yet, life is completely different from where it was last month. At least his basketball life.
On Tuesday, Utah faces the Atlanta Hawks in what will be another return to Salt Lake City for all-star forward and former Jazz star Paul Millsap, as well as ex-Jazz veteran Kyle Korver. But most notably to Jazz fans, it will be the first time Mack sees his old team since general manager Dennis Lindsey traded for him at the deadline.
It will be the first chance for Mack to play against his former teammates.
"It's been pretty good," Mack said of his short time in a Jazz uniform. "I'm starting to get rhythm and get a feel for my teammates. Tomorrow is another game to go out there, have fun and compete. I still talk to those guys a lot. It was a great situation, there are no hard feelings. I'm looking forward to seeing and competing against them."
Of course, Mack liked it in Atlanta, never had an ill word to say about the place he called home for almost three years. But it's safe to say Mack was happy to head west to Utah for one reason: There was opportunity with the Jazz.
As a Hawk, Mack was the third string point guard, behind all-star Jeff Teague and hungry youngster Dennis Schroder. He was never going to play much with Atlanta outside of someone getting hurt. And like all players, Mack wanted to play.
With the Jazz, he has certainly received that chance, becoming a starter by his second game and playing heavy minutes since. He is a bigger point guard, capable of scoring, capable of burrowing his way into the lane and creating offense for himself and others. With Dante Exum hurt, and with Raul Neto and Trey Burke having select issues on both ends of the floor, Mack has been able to carve out a significant role and rather quickly.
"Obviously, he's had an eight-assist game, and he's had different tastes of what we need from him," Snyder said. "We have to be patient with him and in his ability to make a good transition. But it's a compliment to coach [Mike] Budenholzer, his staff and that team. Shelvin knows how to play."
That doesn't mean it's been a cakewalk for Mack. He's scored well, averaging 11.2 points over the eight games he's been with the team. He's had games where he's created very well for his teammates dropping those eight assists last Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. But Mack has had heavy turnover games that have caused issues in the offense. He turned it over six times in a win over the Houston Rockets, and he suffered four miscues in the horrific loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Snyder said some of it is Mack getting used to the offense. At other times, Mack has fired passes that are normally good, but have ricocheted off the hands of a teammate still unfamiliar with when and where Mack likes to dish the ball.
And basketball rust can't be discounted. In January, Mack played six minutes a night with the Hawks. He's played almost 29 minutes a game with the Jazz. It's true that guys want to play. It's also true that a drastic leap in minutes such as that requires an adjustment period.
"It feels good be in a rotation," Mack said. "The biggest thing is I've been able to stay positive and ready. The NBA is all about having a great mindset of staying positive and taking advantage when the chance comes."
If the Jazz are going to make the postseason, Mack is going to have to play a big role. And that's what he's asked for to be important to the fortunes of a contending NBA team.
For the first time in his career, Mack is just that. He's no longer fighting for a roster spot. He's no longer a bit role player. He's the guy who must direct Utah's offense in the next month, for better or worse.
That opportunity is all he's ever asked for.
Shelvin Mack with the Jazz
• Has averaged 11.2 points in eight games, which would lead the point guard position over the course of the season
• Teammates say he has fit in seamlessly in the lockerroom, helped by his previous relationship with small forward Gordon Hayward. The two played together at Butler University
• Has played better on the road than he has at home. This can be attributed to conditioning. Mack has had to adjust to the altitude of Salt Lake City
• Became the starting point guard in his second game with the team
Hawks at Jazz
Tuesday, 7 p.m. MST
At Vivint Smart Home Arena,
TV • ROOT SPORTS
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • Utah 29-33; Atlanta 35-28
Last Meeting • Utah 97, Atlanta 96 (Nov. 15)
About the Hawks • Since leaving the Jazz, Paul Millsap has been an all-star for three consecutive years in the Eastern Conference. He comes into Salt Lake City as Atlanta's best player. …The Hawks will be in the fourth of a five game Western Conference road trip. They are 2-1 on the trip thus far, with the only loss coming to the Golden State Warriors. … The Hawks fortified their frontcourt with the acquisition of Kris Humphries, formerly of the Jazz. He had been a significant contributor with the Washington Wizards. …Atlanta is currently sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference
About the Jazz • Utah is looking for a season sweep of the Hawks, Quin Snyder's former team. The Jazz defeated Atlanta in November. … Derrick Favors is coming off perhaps his best game of the season. In a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Favors scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots. … The Jazz haven't won consecutive games since going on a seven game win streak prior to the all-star break. … Rudy Gobert is one of three NBA players - the others being DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside - to average at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots per game