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Landry Shamet’s potential as a shooting guard

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Comparing Shamet’s profile to shooting guards around the NBA.

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the nickname. There’s been some great discussion in the comments, thanks to all of you whose ideas are being listed here; I’m sorry that my blindness prevents me from going back and seeing who said what. Your priority in these matters is preserved in the comment threads and I freely confess I have no authorship. Ideas:

Shamgod: A play on former player God Shammgod, possessor of perhaps the greatest name in the history of the NBA. History of the world?! For those too young to recall, Shammgod was the point guard for Providence College when they reached the Elite Eight and gave the eventual national champions, Mike Bibby’s Arizona squad, all they could handle before falling in overtime.

Beside his moniker, the thing Shammgod is best known for is a crossover move so incredibly vicious they named it for him. I won’t try to describe it; if you haven’t seen it, check out this video about Shammgod the man, his handles, and his move.

Shamm Godshamm: Clever variant on Shammgod.

Shamwow: A play on the Shamwow brand “shammy” (i.e. chamois, hence the pun in the product’s name) cloth so memorably advertised in popular infomercials by firm founder Vince Offer. Plus the fact that Landry’s shooting, makes you, per the tagline in the infomercials, “say wow every time.”

Shamwet: Offers a tight connection to the name Shamet, requiring just a single letter to be added. And of course pays homage to Landry’s smooth-as-silk “wet” jumper. Plus the Shamw- opening can be seen as a subtle reference to Shamwow.

And... let’s face it, great as all these are, it has to me Shamwow, right? God Shammgod currently makes his living working as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks of the National basketball Association. You can’t just take a current player and give him a nickname that’s the name of a current coach! Imagine if we nicknamed Furkan Korkmaz “Spoelstra.” It just doesn’t work! Shamwet is brilliant; I thought of Shamwow within about 30 seconds of the Sixers drafting Landry, as did I assume about 100 million other fans. But I’m not sure I ever would have come up with Shamwet. But Shamwet has a rather unappealing sound and image. And, while the spelling match is sweet, the pronunciation match is not as perfect. I won’t know for 100% sure until I hear it from Tom McGinnis, who takes player name pronunciation very seriously (just listen to the accent the next time he pronounces J.J. Barea). But I’m pretty sure the name is pronounced SHAM-it; the second syllable pronounced like the last two sounds in “spit,” not the last two sounds in “suffragette.” So “wet” doesn’t quite work for me

But Shamwow? It’s perfect. It’s short. It’s unforgettable. It’s fun to say. Everyone will immediately get the reference as that infomercial was so ubiquitous. His special skill, a fast and smooth long jumper, is indeed of a kind that leads to a “wow” response. It’s got most of his surname in it, so it’s clear who it is. We’re not doing any better than Shamwow.

By the way, they surveyed people to find out why they sit and watch infomercials. Do you know what the #1 response was? It’s that there are no commercial interruptions. I swear I am not making that up.

Oh, one other thing on nicknames: some may question giving such a strong nickname to a player before we know if he’s going to be any good. But I disagree. First, I just want more good nicknames in sports. As best I can tell about 80% of nicknames sportscasters use are either:

a) The person’s last name, or occasionally first, with a “y” tacked on. Like, when Dennis Cook pitched for the Phillies the broadcast team called him “Cookie.” Well, that’s not entirely awful, after all, a cookie is a thing. But they also called shortstop Steve Jeltz “Jeltzy.” Ugh.

b) The player’s initials. Acceptable for AI, but as far as I’m concerned, that should have been the end of it. Well, except that when Andre Iguodala was here, I wanted him to be known as AI2. Didn’t happen, but it didn’t fail as miserably as my attempt to refer to Ersan Ilyasova, birth name Arsen Ilyasov, as AI3. Yeah, I know, a little too abstract....

c) The J-Lo thing, or should I call it the A-Rod thing. I’m real tired of that one. Though I do favor any effort to refer to Aaron Rodgers as Aa-Rod.

Second, I love nicknames that imply extravagant claims, because if the guy turns out to be great, or plays great for a particular time, then the nickname works, but if he sucks, or sucks at a particular time, it works ironically. Hence my favorite nickname of recent years, Mark “Sanchize” Sanchez. When he was great it was a brilliant name, and when he was a mediocre backup or frustrating butt-fumbler, it was absolutely hilarious. I can still remember watching him take the field in a tight spot for the Eagles and thinking “never fear, the Sanchize is here!” — and not even being sure if I was thinking it mockingly or seriously.

Oh, wait, you don’t care, but I have to tell you one other thing. The first two times I was ever widely published writing about sports were on nicknames. Way back when Manute Bol was playing for the 76ers, I took pen in hand — literally, it was before the internet — to write to Bob Ford for his Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer basketball column. I suggested that given Manute’s birthplace in Sudan, and his propensity, as a 7’7” individual, for blocking oh-so-many shots, it seemed appropriate that he be nicknamed, Babe Ruth style, the Sudan of Swat. Ford was kind enough to print it, with my name and everything. I can still remember my father’s excitement when he came downstairs the Sunday after Thanksgiving to tell everyone I was in the paper. Many thanks to Bob Ford for getting me started in the business!

On the second occasion I wrote to a different Philly sports columnist, this time by email as it was a number of years later, to suggest that given Scott Rolen’s last name and skill with the leather around third base, he should be known as “Rawhide.” As in, Rolen, Rolen, Rolen, rawhide! I really thought that one should have caught on, but it didn’t happen. I think they called him “Scotty” or “Roll-y” or something.

Anyway... Landry is Shamwow, and hopefully the “wow” will be for real. How likely is that, anyway?

I’m not going to attempt a statistical analysis yet; maybe in a few weeks I’ll delude myself that I have enough data to whip something up! But I do have a few thoughts. Let’s say we’re not thinking of Shamwow as a potential MVP, but rather asking: can this guy be an average NBA starting shooting guard, and, if so, can he do that on his rookie contract? Then my first comment is, the bar is low. Shooting guard is the weakest position in the NBA, so much so that I sometimes joke that there’s really no such thing as a shooting guard, there are just point guards who don’t handle the ball well and small forwards who don’t rebound well, and if such people are good enough at basketball we call them SGs.

Now, obviously this is hyperbolic; Michael Jordan was a shooting guard, and, while your mileage may vary, my detailed statistical analysis suggests Jordan was quite good at basketball. But if you look at the top players by on-off impact, there are only two SGs in the NBA who are elite players, Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo. And while I am 100% a Dipo believer, he’s only had one top-20 season and arguably no top-10 seasons. And once you get past him it drops off quick. #3 in RPM is Tyreke Evans, whom I’m a big fan of and wish the Sixers had signed but who’s really only been better than good once.

#4 is Kyle Korver, fifth is Donovan Mitchell who is probably on his way to joining Jim and Vic as true stars but wasn’t yet at that level last year; the next five has guys like Eric Gordon and Gary Harris, very good players to be sure but nobody’s trading Giannis for them. There are a couple of famous “stars” ranked lower than these. One is Klay Thompson, who is also a very good player, but who is so consistently good-not-great in the on-off numbers that I feel we are forced to conclude he is benefitting hugely from playing with a team full of megastars. As, indeed, who wouldn’t?! There’s DeMar DeRozan, who for my money simply does not play enough D or make enough three-balls to deserve the star moniker. Bradley Beal is another big name; again, what can I tell you? His team is only about 1 or 2 points better per 48 minutes when he’s on the court; I just can’t get excited about him. Jimmy Butler is at +6; that’s what I call a star.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted, we don’t need to fight about Klay and Beal; it’s unlikely Shamwow will ever match those guys. Let’s look at the average starters, the guys who rank around 15th among players who play starter minutes. And, again, just relying on RPM for convenience, those guys are folks like:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Evan Fournier
  • Buddy Hield

Those, it appears to me, are your average NBA starters at SG. Of course we all have our favorites who happened to rank below those three last year, and probably a couple of those folks are indeed superior to these — there is error in everything. By the same token Tomas Satoransky ranked well above these three last year, and perhaps in truth he is an inferior player. We can rejigger the list and get a slightly different group, but I think these are as realistic as any for the ordinary-starter label.

Now, if you’re a lunatic like me, your response to that might match mine, which as you know from above is something like, “um, guys, if that’s what shooting guards are, can we just not play one, please?!” And I’m not sure I’m alone! Remember when folks mocked Danny Ainge for assembling a team with three small forwards in Tatum, Brown and Hayward? I know they haven’t dominated in preseason, but, still, that strategy doesn’t seem so crazy to me!

But let’s assume my no-SG plan is off the table. Then if you’re asking yourself whether Shamet can achieve average-starting-SG status in the next four years, now you know where the bar is. And, as I say, it’s not all that high! Can Landry Shamet 2020-21 be as good as Buddy Hield 2017-18? I have to say that seems very much in play. Consider:

Size: Shamet is 6’5”, which is probably average or a little above for NBA SGs these days. Thin at 190 pounds. Jake Fisher reported that he had a near-7-foot wingspan, but most places report his wingspan as 6’7”, which, like his height, would be pretty much average.

Athleticism: Shamet is viewed as having questionable athleticism for an NBA player. At the combine his lateral quickness tested poorly. However, his standing vertical leap was just under 40 inches, which is good, and his 3/4 court time was quite fast. Still, lateral quickness is a big deal in the NBA!

Intangibles: Shamet’s reputation is as a hard-working, focused, high-BBIQ player. Early observations based on a couple of preseason games seem to confirm those assessments.

Offense

Shooting: Shamet shot around 44% from 3 the past two seasons, which of course is excellent. He did it on heavy volume, around 7 per 36 minutes last year. His free-throw shooting was good but not stellar. I can’t see his shot, but people seem to think it is very smooth and quick. Comments welcome from any shot docs out there who want to give us more detail on whether that means “so smooth and quick that it looks OK even compared to JJ Redick” or “smooth and quick compared to TLC and Justin Anderson.” Very different things!

Movement without the ball: JJ is among the best ever at this and reports are that Landry is an apt pupil. This looks likely to be a strength rather than a weakness, as he had a great rep in this area based on college and the preseason has not given us reason to expect any less.

Dribbling: Shamet played a lot of PG in college. Wichita State is not the NBA but it seems likely that Shamet, while not up to pro-level PG standards, will be a better ball handler than the typical NBA shooting guard, probably quite a lot better.

Passing: See “dribbling” above; Shamet will likely be below the PG norm but well above the SG average here.

Defense

Shamet’s lateral quickness appears to most observers to be insufficient to enable him to mark speedy point guards of the Irving/Harden/Westbrook variety. If he couldn’t shoot, that would probably doom his career, but since it seems likely he can, the questions then become:

  • Can he guard wing players? Shamet is somewhat skinny at 6’5”, 190 and it’s possible that strong SGs like Oladipo will bully him. He did put up better-than-expected bench press numbers at the combine so perhaps this can be managed, but we’ll see.
  • Can opponents hunt him on D? That is, if the offense forces a switch where he is left guarding the ball handler, can he hold his own in such situations, or will he be a Belinelli out there? Obviously it’s too soon to answer this one either.

But what does seem to be the case is that, first, he tries hard and, second, he seems to know what he’s doing out there, at least by rookie standards and perhaps by a higher standard than that. So now we have:

  • Solid height and reach
  • Tries hard on D
  • Looks like over time he’ll know his role, know where to be
  • Tall and can jump
  • Almost all the other shooting guards outside the top 10 are poor defenders

Overall

On offense, Shamet seems likely to be above average at the things — passing, ball handling — whose lack forces other guards to play SG. He seems to have the potential to be as good a shooter as the typical starting SG, but we certainly don’t want to assume that; let’s not forget how phenomenal a college shooter Buddy Hield was! Still, the bar for average offensive NBA SG seems to me well within Shamet’s reach in his prime, and I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could reach that level on his rookie deal.

On defense, it’s unlikely he’ll be a standout, but, as I keep noting, he’s up against a group of players that share his weakness.

Putting it all together, I’d say this: I think it’s likely Shamet can shoot 38%+ on three-pointers in, say, years 3 and 4 of his rookie deal (and quite possibly sooner). And I think that, given his broad base of skills, if he shoots that well, then he’ll be just as good as the comp group stated here. Not as good a shooter as Hield but as good as Pope, not as good a defender as Pope but as good as Fournier, and a better ball handler and passer than all of them.

I love the Sixers and I’ll just go ahead and confess to being a cockeyed optimist, in general and as to Landry Shamet specifically. But if I’m wrong and he’s a longshot to get to the KCP-Hield-Fournier level (or the slightly lower Wayne Ellington-Tyler Johnson-Ron Baker level), I look forward to folks sharing in comments the reasons that’s the case.