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Missing your two best players will force any team to rely on depth, but not all teams are capable of delivering when their roster is stretched thin. For the Phoenix Suns, the recent absences of Chris Paul and Devin Booker (not to mention Cam Johnson) have given Landry Shamet a golden opportunity to begin his redemption tour.
So far, he’s delivered.
“ShamPayne, it’s crazy, he been hoopin’,” Cam Payne said Tuesday night. “Six 3s tonight, that’s big-time. He been playing well. I just want him to keep it going, even when C and Book is back. Us on that bench, we gotta bring this same thing when our guys get back. Landry been playing big-time.”
In a 102-99 win over the Orlando Magic, the Suns only shot 38.5 percent from the field as a team. They only made 36.1 percent of their 3s too, but on a night where offense was in short supply, Shamet came through with 21 points and six made 3-pointers on 10 attempts — all season highs.
Suns coach Monty Williams had repeatedly identified his confidence and being in attack mode as the biggest keys to helping Shamet fit within their 0.5 offense, and Tuesday was no different.
“I just thought the willingness to take those shots,” Williams said. “I thought there was one right in front of our bench, I wish he would’ve taken that last one that he had. But everybody on the team tells him to shoot the ball, play free. He plays with great intentions, and tonight, it was just impressive to see him step up and make big shot after big shot.”
This isn’t a one-game overreaction either. Rather, it’s the hopeful start of a new trend. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how, at some point, the Law of Averages simply had to kick in for Shamet, a career 39 percent 3-point shooter. The outlook was grim for a guy who had made only 35.3 percent of his triples before the All-Star break, and the numbers reflected as much:
“Assuming he plays in the Suns’ final 24 games and keeps taking 3s at his current rate, he’d need to knock down 45 of his remaining 96 3-pointers this season (46.9 percent) just to get back to his career average.”
Well guess what, folks? That progression to the mean is finally starting to kick in!
In seven games since the break, Shamet is averaging 10.9 points, 1.9 assists and 2.4 made 3s per game — up from the 7.4 points, 1.6 assists and 1.6 made 3s he averaged before the break.
It’s not just a matter of playing more minutes either. Though Shamet is logging 5 more minutes per game over this stretch than he was before, he’s taking the same number of 3-point attempts on a nightly basis. That means he’s simply making more of his 3s, shooting at a 42.5 percent clip from beyond the arc since the break.
Even more encouraging, when Booker went out and Shamet joined the starting lineup, his production rose to meet the challenge. In the last four games — all starts — he’s put up 14.0 points, 2.5 assists and 3.3 made 3s in 31.0 minutes per game, shooting a blistering 50 percent from downtown.
Naturally, playing more minutes equals more opportunities, but this isn’t production as a result of volume shooting; it’s a good shooter developing more of a rhythm in his team’s time of need.
“Me especially has been on Landry’s tail,” Deandre Ayton said. “Like, ‘Dude, I’m gonna need you to shoot this ball.’ Every time, man. You could just tell the dude finally got back to his norm to where he’s just shooting freely.”
Ayton isn’t the only teammate who’s been in Shamet’s ear about playing free and just letting it fly.
“It just looked like he’s playing more free, he’s not thinking as much,” Crowder said after Shamet scored 17 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. “I just told him before the game, ‘Play free and be you.’ I think he’s gotten away from that a little bit, just trying to fit in and at the same time not step on toes and stuff like that. It’s a tough deal when you come to a good team like us, but at the same time, we trust him. He works at his craft, we know what he brings to the table, and we just want him to play free.”
Over the last four contests as a starter, Shamet’s long-range attempts have spiked to 6.5 per game. Williams said that’s the type of thing he hopes carries over even after Booker, Johnson and Paul return.
“He’s another guy that I don’t want backing off from that attitude when we start getting guys back,” Williams said. “Like, that’s how we need him to play. When he has a shot, take it. When he has a chance to get to the rack, go. Just play free and utilize his game.”
Getting his fourth start in a row on Tuesday, Shamet finally busted the lid off the rim that he’d been chipping away at over the last few weeks. But much like Williams and his teammates have routinely stressed the team’s “let it fly” mentality, Shamet once again deflected any praise over his recent shooting rhythm, redirecting it to his teammates instead.
“More than anything, it was just a good team win,” Shamet said. “It just feels good to fight with these guys and battle, and whether the shots are going in or aren’t, I love being able to be out there and compete with them.”
That approach has become a pattern with the 24-year-old guard. When Booker entered health and safety protocols and Shamet’s path to the starting job first opened up, he rejected the idea that it was his big chance to step up.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “My job is to come in and do the same thing every time, and that’s my approach regardless of if I’m playing 40 minutes or not playing or whatever. So it’s not about me, it’s about us.”
When asked about his biggest challenge of the season, he replied that it was getting to know a new system before praising his teammates for helping him get better acclimated and empowering him. When asked about entering a bit of a hot streak at Tuesday’s shootaround, Shamet again shifted the focus elsewhere.
“Ain’t about the shots,” he said. “It’s about us finding ways to win these games with the guys out, finding a way for me to get back in shape. We’re building. It’s about hopefully May and June. If that’s what we’re building towards, it’s not about making shots right now or whatever.”
With all of the Suns’ recent injury-related absences, it’d be easy to forget that Shamet has been rebuilding his conditioning as well. Playing 39 minutes against the Magic certainly helped, but Shamet is only a few weeks removed from a month-long absence due to an ankle sprain.
Over the last few weeks, the Wichita State product has been doing his best to work himself back into game shape, both physically and mentally. Since returning, he’s repeatedly stressed that his measure for getting his legs back under him is on the defensive side of the floor, not based on how many shots he’s making.
“I feel like I’m getting there,” he said just hours before his best performance of the season. “Being able to put multiple possessions defensively together, I think that’s my kinda gauge how I feel. If I can pick up, guard the way I want to guard multiple possessions in a row and still feel like I have more, I’m definitely there. I’m still building.”
If his recent numbers are “still building,” then an avalanche is bound to follow soon. Since the break, Shamet has made 54.5 percent of his corner 3s, up from the 37.1 percent he converted before that. He’s made 42.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s (up from 35.8 percent pre-All-Star), 46.7 percent of his “wide-open 3s,” where the nearest defender is six-plus feet away (up from 33 percent pre-All-Star), and at least two 3-pointers in six of his last seven games.
Shamet says he loves playing in 0.5 because it’s rarely stagnant, but it’s taken some time for him to look truly comfortable playing in it. Too many possessions in the past saw him dribble himself off the 3-point line, get cut off by the defense without drawing help and kick the ball back out — dead ends in a system predicated on letting 3s fly and attacking the second side.
Now, Shamet’s assist numbers are up, he’s making more shots and he’s effectively helping a severely shorthanded team continue to churn on the offensive end without three of their top-five scorers.
“I think we should always be aggressive, all of us,” Shamet said. “Not just to score, but making quick, confident decisions, whether it’s a quick swing or a catch and drive, you’re gonna make a play on the back end of it. So yeah, just all of us continuing to be aggressive in it, and that’s gonna benefit all of us.”
Although the Suns are only 4-3 during this shorthanded stretch, guys like Landry Shamet finding their groove while playing under a bit more pressure is the exact silver lining Phoenix hopes to enjoy from their perch atop the NBA standings.
“I think that develops a capacity for us to grow as a team,” Williams said. “Guys are in situations that they have not been in for this kind of team playing for what we’re playing for. That’s new for all of us with the guys that we have.
“So I think Landry knocking down shots like that, Cam having to manage the game in those situations, that’s new for those guys. Ish [Wainright] getting time in big moments. That’s something that could pay off for us later on, and the stress of it all is good if you can learn from it. I think that’s something that we can obviously add to the portfolio of Suns basketball. I really feel like it’s gonna help us become a better team.”
To this point in the season, every bit of praise or hope after a Landry Shamet 3 has come in a hushed voice, for fear of scaring it off. But since the break, with Shamet rounding into form at this opportune moment, Suns fans are going to keep doing their best Isley Brothers impression with every new 3 he makes, hoping by the time the playoffs roll around, it reaches a fever pitch.
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