The rookie success of Landry Shamet in the NBA has been a surprise to many, the former Wichita State and Kansas City high school star included.
In his first 54 games, Shamet became the first rookie in NBA history to make at least 90 three-pointers while shooting at least 40 percent from three-point range. He became a key rotation player and fan favorite for one of the NBA’s best teams in the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 8.3 points and playing more than 20 minutes.
Shamet played so well, in fact, that he became a valuable enough asset to be a major part of a NBA blockbuster trade. In the early hours of Wednesday, the Sixers included Shamet in a package to the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that revolved around obtaining Tobias Harris.
Hours earlier, The Eagle was in Philadelphia on Tuesday to talk with Shamet and the Sixers about his meteoric rise in the NBA in what became his final day with the organization.
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“I don’t want to say (the success) is too surprising, because I’ve always believed in myself,” Shamet said. “I feel like I’ve always been in that underdog role, so it feels good for sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied yet. I’ve still got a long ways to go.”
For Shamet, Tuesday started as a typical day in his new life as a professional.
He went through the same pre-game routine, received the same pre-game massage and was pleasantly surprised to find out just before tipoff against the Toronto Raptors that he would be receiving his fourth start of the season. Shamet was eager for the fourth duel of his young NBA career against a former teammate at Wichita State: Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.
The two guarded each other in practice at WSU in the 2015-16 season, their lone year together, before Shamet suffered a foot injury. VanVleet had a feeling then that WSU had its next great point guard, so meeting Shamet in the NBA hasn’t been a surprise.
“I’m so proud of him and he’s just a lot of fun to watch,” VanVleet said. “Those guys that I played with and I went to school with, they’re friends forever. Those are bonds that build over the years and they don’t stop when you graduate. It’s really dope to see him having the success he’s having.”
Shocker fans who tuned into the marquee matchup on TNT received the treat of watching their two former stars go head-to-head. Shamet chased VanVleet through screens, just like he did four years ago when trying to contain VanVleet’s play-making ability, while VanVleet remained attached to Shamet on the three-point line to bottle up his shooting.
The two shared some friendly, back-and-forth banter and in the end, VanVleet and the Raptors prevailed 119-107 to win the season series 3-1. Little did Shamet know after the game that he would soon be included in a trade. Shamet wasn’t informed of the trade until well after the game with the news not breaking until after midnight on the East Coast.
“I’ve been fortunate and lucky to land here in Philadelphia,” Shamet told the Eagle before the game. “It’s so much about fit and I feel like the cards have fallen in my favor. But if would have asked me eight months ago, ‘Do you expect to be in the rotation for a playoff team?’ I would have looked at you a little funny.”
So much of early success in the NBA comes down to fit, and Shamet said he feels blessed that he was able to start his career in such a good situation.
By being selected No. 26 — in the latter half of the first round — of last summer’s NBA Draft, he was able to go to a team on the rise. The original plan for Shamet was to be a two-way player this season, splitting time between the Sixers and their G-League affiliate in Wilmington, Del.
But when injuries gave Shamet an opportunity early, he quickly won over Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, who told the Eagle that Shamet has “exceeded all expectations.”
“I knew he could play, but to think he would come out of college and jump onto one of the best teams in the East and claim minutes in the rotation, no,” Brown admitted. “He has really surprised me with his swagger and his belief to make shots.”
Not only was Shamet able to play alongside superstars in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and eventually Jimmy Butler, but he also was able to train with, practice against and be mentored by JJ Redick, a veteran who gave Shamet a glimpse into the everyday routine of one of the NBA’s best shooters.
“I’ve been fortunate how he’s taken me in like he has and how eager he’s been to teach me,” Shamet said. “I was a little in awe at first, but he’s been great and our relationship has grown. He’s a really good guy. He cares about me, I care about him and it’s really cool to see how our relationship has grown.”
After watching Shamet flourish in the first four months of the season, Brown said there was no doubt he had benefited from the relationship with Redick.
“I think being with JJ might be the greatest gift any coach or any program could give him,” Brown said. “He looks across from him and it’s JJ Redick to try to replicate and duplicate and copy cat one of the league’s premier movers and by the way, he can shoot. The combination of him moving and shooting and if you turn your head, you’re going to get punished, Landry does that.”
Shamet said he learned the most from Redick through guarding him in practice. He was amazed at how well Redick had perfected the art of using an off-ball screen to get open. He studied Redick’s movements, picked his brain and quickly earned his respect by going through every repetition in practice at game speed.
“He’s not your typical rookie,” Redick said earlier this year. “He’s got a man’s demeanor and a man’s poise. He’s got a confidence in himself, a quiet confidence, but still a confidence. It’s fun to see a guy who’s 21 years old and already a pro. He plays like a pro and he acts like a pro.”
Nobody, not even himself, expected Shamet to be this good this soon. But what Shamet is excelling at — shooting and moving without the ball — those are traits he’s been excelling at his entire life, dating back to his AAU days with the Kansas City Pumas.
Darin Mason, his summer coach throughout his high school career, chuckled at the thought.
“We were a motion team and we played without the dribble all the time,” Mason said in a phone interview. “Landry was one of those kids that got it right away. He just knew how to get open without the ball. He understood how to use screens. When to curl, when to fade, when to basket cut, when to slip it. He was a really sharp kid, a coach’s dream.”
When he arrived at WSU, coach Gregg Marshall was impressed with how advanced Shamet already was in the motion offense. Although Shamet had to play point guard last season in his final year with the Shockers, he excelled when he played off-ball and made 52 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
“I think running motion offense does give you the freedom and teaches you how to move without the basketball,” Marshall said. “He was really good at it coming in the door and got a little better when he was here. His AAU coach with the Pumas did a nice job with motion offense, so it was a natural fit for him here. He’s got a lightning-quick release and he shoots a great percentage, so if he can find ways to get open that’s going to make him that much more of a valuable commodity in the NBA.”
In his final season at WSU, Shamet worked closely with assistant Donnie Jones, who was somewhat of an offensive coordinator for the Shockers in his lone season under Marshall. Jones, who coached several future NBA players under Billy Donovan at Florida, was reminded of several of those players by how Shamet carried himself and handled his business.
“He really did have a pro’s approach to the game,” Jones said. “And give Gregg credit, he does a great job teaching his players what impacts winning. Landry always brought that mindset that he was going to do whatever it took to impact winning. I don’t think Gregg receives the credit he deserves for how great of a teacher he is. He teaches guys how to be great teammates and the importance of winning and high IQ guys like Landry excel in that kind of a system.”
It’s no coincidence that NBA coaches have raved about the basketball intelligence of Shamet, VanVleet and Ron Baker. They thrived under Marshall and his attention to detail while they learned how to adjust and adapt to help their team win.
That’s been the case for Shamet, who is playing a drastically different role than he did last season at WSU. No longer is he tasked with being a team’s lone playmaker in charge of creating offense. Now his role is more refined, moving around the perimeter, stretching the defense and making open shots.
He’s been able to focus solely on the thing he does best: make threes.
“I feel like Wichita State fans who watched me last year probably feel like they’re looking at a completely different player now,” Shamet said, laughing. “Because I wasn’t doing this kind of stuff as much last year. That wasn’t my role.”
“I think Landry is in a more natural role now,” VanVleet said. “When he was the best player at Wichita State, you’ve got to be the point guard and make the plays for others. But in my viewpoint, he’s more natural in the role he’s in now where he can catch and shoot, slash, one dribble, two dribbles, pull up. They really put him in good situations to be successful.”
Before the trade, Brown was already imagining the different ways the Sixers could use Shamet in the future.
“We’re just scratching the surface of seeing what he can do,” Brown said. “I think he’s got some point guard in him, I really do. Down the road, he’s got some playmaking, point-guard mentality that interest me.
“He’s more than just a catch-and-shoot guy. You go back to Wichita State, he can run a middle pick-and-roll. He’s got a bounce and he can rise up and shoot over people. There are other parts of his game I think we’ll start to appreciate even more as time unfolds.”
Now the Clippers will be the beneficiaries of those skills. Shamet could see an increase in minutes with the Clippers currently lacking options at shooting guard. While LA is currently 30-25 and in the Western Conference playoffs, Wednesday’s trade signified the team’s shift in focus to making a run at big-name free agents this coming offseason.
Leaving the Sixers will be disappointing for Shamet, who was excited about the possibility of making a deep playoff run and his future in Philadelphia. He’ll also have to deal with the inconvenience of trying to move cross-country during the season.
But on the upside, Los Angeles is where Shamet set up his base in the months leading up to the NBA Draft and the Clippers are clearly invested in developing him as a player.
Through the ups and downs of his career, Shamet has remained the same person. The NBA lifestyle hasn’t changed him as a person. He’s still the same quiet and humble player he was when he arrived at Wichita State. The lone difference might be his wardrobe, which he has since upgraded after becoming a millionaire when he signed his rookie contract that will pay him more than $3.7 million through his first two seasons.
The mid-season trade is just the latest chapter in the underdog tale of Shamet. He’s adjusted and adapted before and he’s planning on doing it once again to continue the success of his rookie season.
“He’s still the same Landry,” said his mother, Melanie, in a phone interview from Kansas City. “He’s handled all of this very well. I knew he had it in him and he’s always thrived on proving everybody wrong. I knew he would work hard, but I don’t think anyone expected this. I’m just so proud of him.”