This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Gordon Hayward first realized Shelvin Mack was an impact player during a high school all-star basketball game.
The Derby Classic isn't as prestigious on a national level as the McDonald's All-American game. But the game that pits the top players from Indiana against their counterparts from Kentucky is a big deal regionally.
The Classic was the first time that Hayward and Mack, who were set to begin their college careers together at Butler University, crossed paths. It was the start of a basketball friendship that has led them to now being teammates on the Utah Jazz.
"I remember this kid just making plays, just doing anything that it took for his team to win," Hayward said. "Shelvin was a gamer. He wasn't afraid of anything, and that's the player he is today."
Hayward became a national star at Butler, the leader of the team that almost beat Duke in the 2010 NCAA national championship game. Mack was the engine for the Bulldogs, the point guard who did whatever it took to get a win continuing that role the following season when, despite losing Hayward to the NBA, Butler reached the 2011 NCAA national championship game, losing to Connecticut.
Being a team's engine fits Mack's mindset on the floor. Need a basket? Mack will try and go get it for you. Need a timely defensive play? Mack will try and get it. At times Mack will turn the ball over, or miss a read, or have a bad shooting night. But his effort has made him a trusted part of Quin Snyder's rotation because he succeeds more often than he fails.
"That's the biggest thing," Snyder said. "He's thrown himself into defense. He knows when you do that, good things happen. I want him to attack on the offensive end and be smart. So his decision making has also improved there as well."
Mack's NBA journey has not been easy. He was picked No. 34 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards; after a rookie season in which he played a backup role, he was traded twice in the 2012-13 season, first from Washington to Philadelphia, then after four games with the 76ers, he was traded to Atlanta, where his role declined. Averaging less tham 8 minutes per game last season with the Hawks, Mack was traded to Utah on Feb. 18, and thrown immediately into the starting lineup.
Mack started 27 of 28 games in Utah, averaging 12.7 points per game. He went into the offseason with an uncertain future before the Jazz guaranteed his contract for this season as one of four point guards on the roster. His minutes and role have changed at times this season, but the Jazz have been pleased with Mack's professionalism at each turn.
"I think early on this season I was trying to figure out my role," Mack said. "But the situation here is kind of like what it's been like every year in the NBA for me. I have to compete and earn my playing time. I know that no matter what happens that if I compete, everything else will take care of itself."
Injuries to starting point guard George Hill who has missed 16 of the Jazz's 27 games so far this season have changed the Jazz's outlook on the guard rotation. Dante Exum has been the starter with Hill injured, allowing Mack to stay in his role providing an offensive boost coming off the bench, a role Snyder likes having him in.
Even as a reserve, Mack is still averaging over 22 minutes per game. And he's contributing mightily to a Jazz team that is 17-10 so far this season, heading into an important road game on Sunday at the Memphis Grizzlies.
In Friday's 103-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Mack scored 11 points off the bench, also grabbing three rebounds and handing out three assists. He was even better in Wednesday's blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, and finishing with five assists and five rebounds. He helped harass Thunder star Russell Westbrook into a 7 of 25 shooting performance, which was instrumental in allowing the Jazz to win going away.
Mack knows he will have to fight for playing time when Hill is healthy. He also doesn't know if he will even be in a Jazz uniform next season, as he will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. But those attributes that first stood out to a young Gordon Hayward still ring true.
twitter: @tribjazz The Mack file
• Averaging 8.1 points and 3.2 assists per game this season.
• Has improved his per-game and field-goal percentage this season over his career averages.
• Former Butler star, acquired in a trade last season, will be a free agent this summer.
Jazz at Grizzlies
When • Sunday, 4 p.m. MST
Where • FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Utah 17-10, Memphis 18-0
Last Meeting • Memphis 102, Utah 96 (Nov. 14)
About the Jazz • Rodney Hood missed the teams' earlier matchup in November due to illness. … The Jazz have won 10 of their past 12 games. … Jazz forward Gordon Hayward became the 10th leading scorer in franchise history on Friday night. … The Jazz will play three of their next four games against teams with records above .500.
About the Grizzlies • Memphis point guard Mike Conley will play on Sunday, after missing nine games due to a back injury. … Memphis center Marc Gasol is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week. … Since beating the Jazz in November in the teams' first meeting of the season, the Grizzlies are 14-5 including a win over the Golden State Warriors.