Shane Larkin has been a Dallas Maverick for exactly one week, and though he has not yet stepped on the court, he already showed his new employer flashes of the self-confidence, maturity and insatiable hunger that have helped him compensate for his lack of height his entire career.
He made his first bold statement by showing up at the draft ceremony in a turquoise polka-dotted bow tie.
The 5-11 former University of Miami point guard, who was selected No. 18 in the draft last Thursday, then told reporters on a conference call that although he realizes he may have to play behind a seasoned veteran and “learn the ropes,” his goals include making the league All-Rookie team and earning a starting job.
He also displayed his take-charge attitude by offering to be “the leading spokesman for the Dwight (Howard)-to-Dallas campaign.” Larkin was a fan of Howard’s growing up in Orlando, and said it would be dream come true to play alongside one of his boyhood idols and Dirk Nowitzki.
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Skeptics say Larkin’s size make him a likely backup. He, as always, is aiming higher.
“I mean, based on my size coming out of high school, they said I couldn’t play D-I basketball,” Larkin said. “I couldn’t play basketball in high school, I definitely couldn’t play in the ACC, I wasn’t going to be successful, all this type of stuff, and I’ve never let any of that make me feel less confident about my abilities and never really let it get to me.
“I’ve always used that as motivation to be better, so if people are saying now that I can’t be a starter or I can’t be a successful player in the NBA, I’m going to use that as motivation to go out there and play harder and work on my game, so that eventually I can quiet those doubters as well as I’ve quieted everybody else so far.”
The Mavs are revamping their point guard rotation and looking to go back to the pick-and-roll success they had during their 2011 NBA Championship run. Coach Rick Carlisle and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson see Larkin as a J.J. Berea-type player, an undersized speedy guard who can create and shoot off the dribble, get to the rim, and get other guys involved.
They did not re-sign last season’s point guards Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois, letting them go as unrestricted free agents. They got Larkin through the draft, and on Tuesday signed 6-3 Israeli Gal Mekel to a guaranteed three-year deal. Dallas is said to be shopping for a veteran starting point guard. In the meantime, Larkin and Mekel will compete for playing time.
Mekel, a 25-year-old who played two years at Wichita State, averaged 13.3 points and 5.4 assists last season for Maccabi Haifa and led the team to the Israel Super League title. He improved his game under Haifa coach Brad Greenberg, the former Philadelphia 76ers general manager and Portland director of player personnel.
Larkin welcomes the competition, is eager to report to training camp this weekend and play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas July 12-22.
“I’m a competitor at heart, and I like to compete,” he said. “I’m going to go into training camp and compete for the starting spot. If they happen to bring in a veteran who outplays me, then hopefully he can mentor me and show me the ropes.”
His immediate goal is to learn and earn playing time.
“Of course you want to be on the All-Rookie Team and Rookie of the Year. I’ve always set high goals for myself, because I want to reach for the top, so those are things I would like to accomplish, but first I’ve got to get on the court,” Larkin said. “So, I’ve got to go in there in training camp and summer league and at the beginning of the season and prove my worth. That’s really what I’m focused on, just going in and working hard and doing whatever the coach asks of me.”
Playing in the ACC and winning the conference tournament gives Larkin the confidence to compete against NBA players, he said.
“Hopefully, I can play well enough where I can force the coach’s hand to whereas I may get significant minutes or even be a starter as a rookie,” he said. I’m just going to keep on working until I’m one of the best players and I’m the best player I can be.”
He envisions himself becoming like Ty Lawson. “He’s the type of player who can impact the game. He’s a little stockier than I am but I feel that’s the impact I can have.”
Carlisle and Nelson have high hopes.
“I don’t think he and Barea are exact duplicates, but we’ve missed the last couple of years the element that Barea brought to the game here,” Carlisle said. “Being able to get to the rim, being able to get it going from three, the resourcefulness and some of those types of things. Shane’s going to bring some of those types of things.”
Added Nelson: “[Larkin] comes in with that kind of a punch. He’s able to get by the best of them. He’s about as quick as it gets. His ability to shoot the long ball and create, especially the way the game is played nowadays, is just really, really important.”