Mack Has Been Great Mentor for Magic's Young Players

by John Denton

ORLANDO – To get to the trainer’s room, the weight room or the practice court from the Orlando Magic’s locker room at the Amway Center, all players must first pass the dressing stall of veteran point guard Shelvin Mack. This, of course, is not by coincidence considering the high regard that the Magic’s coaching staff has for the wise and level-headed Mack.

``He’s a coach – we’ve said it all year that he approaches the game that way and he understands the game that way,’’ Magic head coach Frank Vogel said. ``He’s one of the most mature players that I’ve ever coached.’’

Though he’s just 27 years old, Mack has served as a veteran mentor to many of the young players on the Magic’s roster, advising them on what it takes to thrive and stick at the NBA level. On the court, Mack can show his teammates that he knows what he speaks of as he has quietly been one of Orlando’s best players over the past two months even as the squad has struggled.

Orlando got some positive news on Thursday when one of its prized young players – rookie forward Jonathan Isaac – practiced fully and showed no signs of the strained foot injury that knocked him out of the past three games. He’s listed as probable to play on Friday when the Magic (22-52) hosts the Chicago Bulls (24-50).

``He has a role to fill on both ends of the floor and we’re trying to build great shot-selection offense and execution through pressure and reading the defense,’’ Vogel said of what he’s looking for from Isaac the rest of the season. ``I don’t need him to go and try to score 20 or 30 points. I just want him to be aggressive on every catch, aggressive off the basketball and while running the floor and cutting. Him just making the right play every time down, that’s the most important thing now.’’

Mack made plenty of the right plays on Wednesday and was one of the Magic’s lone bright spots in a 111-104 loss to the Brooklyn, contributing 13 points, six assists, four rebounds, two 3-pointers and a steal. In 29 minutes on the floor, he was one of just three Magic players to finish with a positive plus/minus ratio in the game because of his heady play at both guard positions. He’ll look to repeat that effort on Friday against a rebuilding Bulls team that is 3-0 this season against the Magic.

Even though the season has been filled mostly with disappointment for the Magic, Mack said he’s proud of his decision to sign with Orlando last July because of the way it has allowed him to help young players such as Isaac, Mario Hezonja, Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch. Mack has only a partially guaranteed contract for next season, but he has high hopes that he will return to the Magic and that things will be different in the near future for the team.

``Every year of my career, there has been something challenging and different,’’ said Mack, who considers himself something of a NBA survivor what with the way he’s carved out a seven-year pro career despite being waived, demoted to the minors and/or benched at various stops along the way. ``This year has given me a chance to grow as a player and be in situations that I haven’t been in. So, I never regret decisions that I make.

``I’m definitely hoping to come back because we’ve started something here in the right direction,’’ Mack added. ``I have a great bond with the young guys, like Isaac and I’m talking to him every day to get him mentally prepared for what he’s going to need to do. He’s got a big summer and he’s got to take care of his body. I feel like helping him is helping this organization grow.’’

Hearing a veteran player being willing to take ownership of the Magic’s locker room leadership is music to the ears of Vogel, who has talked repeatedly to his team about the tenants of building a winning culture. Mack embodies winning and he’s done that much of his career, whether it was helping Butler to the National Championship Game in college or being on NBA playoff teams in Washington, Atlanta and Utah. He’s not shy in approaching Orlando’s young players to try and pass along some of the knowledge that he’s acquired while in the NBA.

``That’s what some of the guys need to hear. What some of the rebuilding teams get criticized for not having quality vets to show leadership. That type of thing is invaluable to us,’’ Vogel said of Mack. ``He understands how things should be done and he has a great IQ on the floor. He’s really elevated his play throughout the season. He started out a little slow getting comfortable with things, but as he got more and more comfortable, he’s really played a terrific brand of basketball for us.’’

Mack’s numbers this season – 6.7 points, 3.8 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 steals a game on 43.3 percent shooting and 36.8 percent accuracy from 3-point range – are down a bit over his career averages. But, as Vogel pointed out, he’s gotten better as the season has gone along and has played well in February (8.7 points, 4.6 assists and 47.1 percent shooting) and March (10.2 points, 3.4 assists and 43.8 percent 3-point shooting) following Orlando’s trading of starting point guard Elfrid Payton.

Again, some of his biggest contributions haven’t shown up on the stat sheet, but they are obvious to the teammates around him. Mack can often be seen during games and on the Magic bench instructing Hezonja or Isaac, pointing out reads that they should have seen on offense or rotations they should have made defensively. Hezonja, who pumped in 23 points on Wednesday night and has averaged 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds after the break for the NBA All-Star Game, credits Mack with giving him sage advice that has helped him be more consistent.

``He really understands how the NBA goes,’’ Hezonja said of Mack. ``That’s what I need. Coach (Vogel) sees everything because of video. But (Mack has that) feel for the game while we’re playing together. I love having guys like Shelvin with me (on the second unit) because right after I make a mistake he is going to tell you what is going on. I know what he is saying will be good for us, good for me and my future.’’

Mack’s future almost certainly will include coaching, either at the high school, college or NBA levels, when he is finished as a player. Coaching is something that he’s already given great thought to already and he’s looked into fulfilling the 23 credit hours that he is still lacking to get the degree that would allow him to coach at the prep school level.

For now, Mack still has plenty of time remaining as both a player and a mentor for the Magic. He doesn’t mind imparting some of the wisdom that he’s picked up along the way while playing several star NBA players, such as John Wall, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.

``I feel like I’ve been around a lot of star or superstar guys, whether it’s been Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward. I’ve been able to see different things from different guys and use that to help other guys out and help myself out,’’ Mack said. ``I’ve been able to catch a lot of people who have been in the league longer than me and learn from them.’’

Isaac, the Magic’s prized draft pick from last June’s NBA Draft, has been a frequent target for Mack’s pre-practice and in-game talks. He feels the 6-foot-11, 222-pound rookie has an exceptionally bright future in the NBA because of his obvious talents and his willingness to listen.

``I think he definitely respects what I say with my track record of guys who I have played with,’’ Mack said. ``I think I do a great job of communicating with him and not always just harping on things. I feel I have a way of saying things and getting my point across.

``For him to be that great player that he wants to be, he understands that he has to put in a lot more work this summer than he did last summer,’’ Mack added, sounding more and more like a coach with every word. ``Unfortunately, he’s been hurt, and he hasn’t been able to get a lot of the court work and he feels like he’s behind. So, he understands that other guys are getting better, and he’s got to get better, too.’’

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