Lost in all the talk of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, second-year guard Landry Shamet will be of huge importance to the Clippers in their bid for a championship in the 2020 season. After his acquisition from the Philadelphia Sixers for Tobias Harris before the trade deadline, Shamet surged, moving into the Clippers’ starting lineup and never leaving it. There were many reasons for the Clippers’ push down the stretch of the season that got them to 48 wins and a playoff spot, but Shamet’s contributions were one of the most significant.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a magnificent rookie season, combining exceptional defense (for a rookie) with steady playmaking, composure beyond his years, and an unnatural ability to finish around the basket. He is going to have a stellar NBA career, and the hype behind him was entirely justified. However, Shai’s excellence pushed Shamet to the side a little bit, and that’s unfair to the Wichita State product, who was not only a positive contributor for a playoff team, but achieved unheard of numbers for a rookie.
Shamet is one of only three rookies ever to hit on over 40% of his threes while taking 5.0 or more per game. The other two are Duje Dukan, who played in a single game, and Troy Daniels, who appeared in five. Shamet, on the other hand, played in 79 games and saw over 1800 minutes of action. Nobody else has hit that level of volume and efficiency from deep as a rookie. Ever. Shamet wasn’t just a good shooter, he was historically great.
Expanding the criteria doesn’t make Shamet’s achievements any more pedestrian. Changing the three-point shooting percentage from 40 to 37 (and adding a games played requirement of 50) returns only two more players: Rudy Fernandez and Kerry Kittles. Moving the criteria from five three pointers attempted a game to just four brings in some incredible company: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Mike Miller, Ben Gordon, and Matt Maloney. Even among the “lesser” names here, Miller had a fantastic NBA career, Gordon had a nice stretch before an awful situation in Detroit derailed him, Fernandez is one of the more decorated international players of all time, and Maloney and Kittles were ruined by injuries. And none of them did what Shamet did as a rookie.
So much for Shamet’s rookie season. The question is: what can he do to build upon such a unique start to his career? Well, there are three key elements to his game that could take him from promising youngster to truly excellent NBA player. The first, and perhaps most important, is his ability to take three pointers off the dribble.
Off the dribble shooting
One of the great revolutions in the NBA the past decade has been the Steph Curry-driven practice to take deep threes off the dribble. Not only are threes efficient, but taking them out of the pick and roll bends defenses in ways that the NBA has never seen before, opening up the lane for rolling big men and for other shooters spotting up in the corners or on the wing. There are only a handful of players who can reliably be counted upon for deep, off the bounce threes. Steph, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and Kyle Lowry are perhaps the most prominent of these — and they are some of the best players in the NBA today.
As detailed above, Shamet is already an excellent three-point shooter in the NBA. However, most of his outside shots last year came spotting up or running off screens. His form is consistently on point, so it’s not really a matter of changing his approach so much as it is confidence in just letting it fly, and comfort in taking threes after dribbling. Here’s a good example of Shamet’s capabilities already in this regard.
Now, this isn’t a pick and roll, which is where outside shooting is most valuable in drawing defenses out, but it’s a similar shot in terms of mechanics. Shamet takes the handoff, but is pressed, and has to escape to his left with a couple hard dribbles before pulling up. When he does so, he gets into his shooting motion almost instantaneously, and nails the shot. Here’s a nearly identical play against the Mavericks where Shamet takes just one dribble before shooting. Again, Shamet is composed, controlled, and looks completely in his element here.
Finally, there’s this look, which is much more along the lines of what Shamet needs to add to his arsenal next season.
The Clippers are coming down the court in transition, and Gallo passes the ball ahead to Landry. Instead of passing to a ballhandler like Shai and running to a corner, Landry takes the ball down himself, pulls up from deep (27 feet), and hits nothing but net. With guys like George and Kawhi on the team next season, Landry should be able to free himself in transition as teams scramble to cover the Clippers’ superstars. His ability to take threes off the dribble consistently and punish teams for leaving him open with the ball in his hands, not just while spotting up, will be a big deal for the Clippers. Landry has the shooting ability and talent to make these looks. He just needs to take more of them.
However, shooting off the dribble alone is not enough to bend defenses. All of those guys mentioned above are successful not just through shooting, but also playmaking. And Landry, while he played point guard at Wichita State, was used almost exclusively off-ball last year, meaning he didn’t get to create for others much. For Shamet’s shooting to truly be unlocked, he needs to step up as a passer and creator.
With Kawhi and PG on the team, it’s unlikely that Shamet gets many true ballhandling opportunities, especially next season. However, even playing off-ball, it’s imperative that he makes quick, smart decisions with the ball in his hands, and can capitalize off hard closeouts. Shamet has already shown some capacity for passing and reading the floor — he was a point guard in college, after all.
Seeing Reggie Bullock closing out hard, Landry makes a few hard dribbles to his right, drawing the attention of both the recovering Bullock and the second defender, Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma’s man, Danilo Gallinari, smartly moves behind the three-point line, and Shamet nicely passes it back to him. Bullock tries to scramble and contest the shot, but gets there late. Splash. This is an extremely simple play that nonetheless shows that Shamet is capable of making easy, intelligent reads with the ball in his hands.
However, Landry still has work to do regarding both his handles and his passing. Take this play for example.
Coming off a down screen, Shamet catches the ball just below the three-point line and takes a step into the teeth of the defense. Rather than keeping his dribble alive and probing further, he picks it up, which is never ideal. After a half-second of searching for an outlet, he finds Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the wing and feeds him. Shai makes the shot and the possession goes into the books as a win. However, if you run the clip once or twice, you can clearly see that Zubac, after setting the screen and rolling to the rim, is wide open under the basket at around the 2 second mark. While Landry ended up making a solid read and got the assist, he missed an easy dunk. He’s certainly a willing passer, but the vision isn’t quite always there.
What needs to improve most for Shamet as a playmaker are his handles. He just doesn’t have the ability to do much with the ball in his hands outside of hard drives in a straight line, and it can throw him off on the perimeter. Here, he comes off a dribble hand-off with Zu, but Quinn Cook stays with him, and he picks up his dribble. Sensing Shamet is in trouble, Cook presses him, and Landry coughs the ball up, throwing an awful pass back in Zu’s direction that Andrew Bogut easily picks off.
Again, Shamet won’t have a high usage rate next season, as he’ll play primarily off the ball. However, when he gets a weakened defense after it’s already been bent by the activities of Kawhi or PG, he needs to have the ballhandling skills to press the advantage. He doesn’t need to be Kyrie Irving or Jamal Crawford, but merely possess the requisite skills to keep his dribble alive, probe the paint, and create more chaos for the defense. Adding some stronger handles and a sharper passing toolkit to his shooting would make him a far more well-rounded, versatile offense player.
Defense – Warriors series
However, it’s not just Shamet’s offense that can take a step forward. Landry was frequently taken advantage of on defense last season, with his lack of strength and familiarity with NBA scouting reports leading to numerous slip-ups and blow-bys. On the other hand, once he got acquainted with the Clippers’ defensive schemes and his teammates, he also demonstrated flashes of competence on that end of the court. The full spectrum of his defensive aptitude can be seen in the Clippers series against the Warriors in the 2019 postseason.
Tasked with defending Stephen Curry for much of the series, Shamet eventually proved his worth on the Warriors’ superstar, but not before getting some tough lessons along the way. Curry is the most dangerous shooter in the history of the sport of basketball, and guarding him is correspondingly difficult.
In this case, Landry tries to pick Steph up as he crosses halfcourt, but unbeknownst to him, Andrew Bogut comes up to set a screen. Landry gets caught on it (partially because Bogut continues to move along with him), and Steph is able to separate himself for an open three. Fortunately, Montrezl Harrell steps up to contest, and Seph misses the shot. Still, Landry’s lack of awareness and strength in moving through the screen is notable. He simply has to do a better job there of making it through Bogut, or, preferably, not running into it in the first place by playing smarter defense.
One of the positives from Shamet’s rookie season defense was generally his effort. Here, he similarly gets caught on a screen, but fights through it a bit better, and is able to get his hand in at the last minute on the shot attempt. It’s still not great, but plays like this show just how much effort can help on the defensive end. Hard work can’t paper over athletic or feel-based deficiencies, but it can smooth out the rough edges a bit.
As the series went along, the Clippers adjusted their schemes, switching to a top-lock coverage on Steph to prevent him from dancing into threes. In this situation, Landry does a good job at staying with Steph, and forcing him to cut towards the basket instead of the three-point line. Then, even though he’s trailing, he hustles back and gets a decent contest, forcing another miss from Curry. It was this kind of effort and execution of scheme that allowed Shame to not only stay on the court against the Warriors, but thrive.
Landry will probably never be a great defender. However, if he’s able to bulk up a little, and stay within the Clippers’ defensive schemes, he should be a workable defender, especially given his height and effort. Given his offensive aptitude, that’s all the Clippers should need from him. Still, any improvements on that end could be crucial come the postseason, when every little weakness can be taken advantage of. If shooting off the dribble and better guard skills will significantly boost Shamet’s current advantages, improved defense will strengthen his biggest weakness, which might be even more important.
Landry Shamet is already good. For a late 1st round pick in his early 20s that the Clippers got for a player they weren’t interested in keeping (at his demanded price) anyway, that’s already a fantastic outcome. Still, Shamet could become much, much better yet. Most importantly, the tools for improvement are there. He’s demonstrated that he can take, and make, threes off the dribble. He has made high-level reads in tough, competitive environments. And he has played solid defense against one of the best offensive players in the history of the sport in the playoffs. If Shamet can step forward in any one of these three areas (much less all of them), the NBA had better look out.