CHICAGO — Unless the future second-round pick the Utah Jazz traded away in order to acquire Shelvin Mack becomes the next MJ or Steph Curry, this deal might go down as one of the best in franchise history.
A month after he joined the Jazz, Mack has become a solid force on an improving young basketball team.
Thursday’s game against the Phoenix Suns was no exception.
It was also the second straight game in which the 25-year-old, relegated to the end of the Atlanta Hawks’ bench for most of this season, came close to notching a triple-double.
In the 103-69 blowout of the Suns, Mack had 15 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
In the 94-85 victory over the Cavaliers, Mack totaled 17 points, 10 assists and seven boards.
To put those performances in perspective, the Jazz haven’t had a triple-double since Carlos Boozer tallied one in 2008.
On Thursday, Mack admitted he was paying “a little bit” of attention to his well-round stat line, but it didn’t affect him.
“I didn’t really worry about it,” he said. “I’ve been close the past few games. I’m just trying to play hard and compete.”
Mack might’ve pulled off the triple-double — made popular in the state of Utah by BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth — but Jazz coach Quin Snyder pulled him out of the lopsided laugher against the Suns with five minutes remaining.
But did he lobby to stay in so he could get that rare statistical achievement?
“No, no, no, no,” Mack humorously said. “You can’t do that. The basketball gods. That’s when terrible things happen.”
The opposite is happening now that Mack is feeling more comfortable in the Jazz system and with his new teammates, 14 games into his altered NBA situation.
Utah has won four games in a row — two in impressive fashion considering the absence of injured Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) — and Mack has played well in the streak. He'll be tested against former MVP Derrick Rose when the Jazz visit the Bulls Saturday.
This Utah run started when Mack lit up John Wall and his first NBA team, the Washington Wizards, for 27 points in a 114-93 win a week ago Friday. He followed that with a nice 14-8-5 showing at Sacramento and then ventured near triple-double land the following two games.
Who knows about the basketball gods, but his team and Jazz fans are loving what he’s doing for a squad that had too little production and too much inconsistency from the point guard position the first three-and-a-half months of the season.
“He is a smart player. That is one of the reasons that we traded for him,” Snyder said. “I think it’s really a familiarity and comfort level.”
Snyder pointed out that Mack is communicating better with teammates, which is leading to more consistent success.
“I see that. I see that with myself. I see that during the game. I think it has been accelerated by the situation that we are in,” Snyder said. “We know how much we need each other as a group and we’ve got good unselfish guys that support each other. They have probably made that easier for him and I think that he certainly understands that it can help the group and help him impact the group in a positive way.”
Earlier this week, Mack admitted he’s feeling more like a part of this team as time has passed.
“I’m just getting comfortable,” he said. “It takes time to get comfortable with your teammates. I think I found the way to get into the groove.”
Snyder credit Mack for scoring “opportunistically,” which has been the case as he’s burst to the basket while breaking down a defense or hit an assortment of 3-pointers when that’s what the defense has given him.
Mack is hitting 45.2 percent from 3-point range (1.4-3 per game) since being traded to Utah. He’s also averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds, which are all way above his career highs for a season.
Snyder credited him for being a good rebounding guard and for being a playmaker with “the ability to set up people.”
That’s been evident as he’s been the only Jazz player with double-digit assists — and the only point guard with more than seven assists (five times now) — this season.
“We need him to score at times and we certainly needed him to score (Thursday). I think he just needs to continue to find that balance,” Snyder said. “When people get into Gordon and Rodney (Hood), those opportunities are going to be available but him finding that balance is good.”
That’s why Mack’s critics are becoming quieter and his supporters are having more and more to cheer about.
JAZZ NOTES: Hayward traveled with the team but his status for tonight's game against the Bulls is questionable. He's missed the past two games with a plantar fasciitis in his right foot. ... Alec Burks, who hasn't played since December after breaking his leg, is with the Jazz but will not play at Chicago. ... This game starts a five-game road trip for Utah, which goes from the Windy City to Milwaukee for a Sunday game and then, after spending a couple of days at home, continues in Houston, Oklahoma City and Minnesota. ... The Bulls will be without standout big man Pau Gasol, who's missed games this week with a sore knee.