DALLAS — It was a bumpy entry into the NBA for Dallas Mavericks rookie Shane Larkin this season, but he took it all in stride.
Fracturing his right ankle in the final practice before the Mavericks’ summer-league squad headed to Las Vegas last July, the former Miami standout and first-round draft pick would be forced to sit and watch helplessly while rehabbing during training camp. But it wouldn’t take long for Larkin to make an impact and an impression on Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, suiting up for his long-awaited season debut on Nov. 18 and filling up the stat sheet with three points, three assists and three steals in nine minutes of reserve work off the bench during Dallas’ 97-94 home win over Philadelphia.
“Larkin showed that he’s a guy that can be a factor in this league as a point guard,” Carlisle said while highlighting the bright moments in the first-year guard’s season.
Forced to sit behind veterans Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris in the backcourt most of the season, the 21-year-old Larkin would have to wait his turn from there while finding himself at the end of the bench. However, he would continue to provide the Mavs with glimpses of talent throughout the season while gaining more and more confidence from his head coach and teammates.
Scoring a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting while dishing out five assists in 27 minutes of action during the Mavs’ 110-107 win at Phoenix on Jan. 17, Larkin showed that he remained ready to answer the call when Calderon was hampered by a right knee contusion. The effort then quickly earned the respect of his coach and the team’s veterans while showcasing what Larkin could provide in future seasons.
“This is why we drafted him,” Carlisle said following Larkin’s best performance of the season. “We felt like he could have this kind of impact. Jose banged a knee in the first half and it wasn’t quite right in the second half, and so we totally changed our rotation and Shane responded in a big way. He made plays down the stretch, made free throws and hit guys. He was probably our leading scorer in the last four or five minutes, which is huge on the road. It’s hard to win on the road in the NBA.”
Attacking relentlessly to get into the lane, Larkin showed a cat-quick ability to run the team as a floor general on the offensive end of the floor. He also stepped up his game on defense, proving to be a one-man press against Suns point guard and Most Improved Player of the Year Goran Dragic.
All of which could be utilized in the backcourt next season, according to 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, as Larkin tries to expand his game in Year 2.
“I think it was his kind of game, an up-and-down game, and he was phenomenal,” Nowitzki said in regard to his young teammate’s night. “He made big shots, he knocked down big free throws and we needed him, obviously, with Jose going down. The little guy was phenomenal. He competed, he picked up fullcourt and pushed the pace for us when we needed, so he was phenomenal.”
Perhaps more importantly, however, the performance also gave the rookie confidence in himself as he grew more comfortable in Carlisle’s system. That game could now serve as a blueprint for Larkin’s success going forward as he looks to continue developing this summer before heading into his second season.
“I was like, ‘I’ve just got to go play now. I mean, I’m not coming out, so just go out there and do you,’” Larkin recalled of his performance after seeing Calderon go down in the second half. “Sometimes you think as a rookie you don’t want to mess up. You want to play smart and you don’t want to do things that Coach [Carlisle] isn’t comfortable with you doing yet. … It was just go play.
“Phoenix likes to get up and down, and I’ve always been accustom to the up-and-down style. It was just a great game, 110-107, and just to be able to know I contributed and was a part of the win in a big way really just helps your confidence.”