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Backup point guard hunting: The case for overseas star Shane Larkin

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EuroLeague MVP Shane Larkin has turned some heads overseas, and Phoenix should be one of the first teams to inquire for his services this offseason.

Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade v Anadolu Efes Istanbul - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

The Suns finally have their starting point guard in Ricky Rubio, and we saw the stability he offered by running the offense, getting others involved and taking pressure off Devin Booker.

The revolving door of point guards thankfully went from switching off as spot “starters”, to rotating off the bench. It’s now absolutely vital for Phoenix to bring that same stability to the bench unit that struggled mightily when Rubio and Booker were off the court.

One under-the-radar option that would offer Phoenix a much needed scoring punch and burst of energy off the bench would be 27-year-old former NBA guard Shane Larkin. You might be wondering what he’s been up to these days, and well, he’s just casually breaking scoring records in Europe taking the EuroLeague by storm.

The Best Player in Europe?

Let’s just take a quick look at his absurd numbers against the best competition in the world outside of the NBA.

22.2 PPG — 4.1APG — 3.1RPG — 1.3SPG

53.0% FG — 50.9% 3P — 90.3% FT

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the 50/40/90 club, and well... Shane wasn’t satisfied with that, so he joined the elusive 50/50/90 club to cap a historically efficient offensive season. This isn’t one of those cases where he’s playing in high school gyms against accountants in the Greek third division. He’s going against the Real Madrid’s, the Barcelona’s, and the CSKA Moscow’s of the world.

Doing what he did against top-tier competition on a nightly basis is going to turn some heads and undoubtedly draw the attention of NBA executives.

Shooting Versatility

In this video above, you get a good idea of his dynamic “microwave scoring” ability in a variety of ways. The main component that makes his game so intriguing to me is the shooting versatility. He connected on ten (10!) threes in one game on two separate occasions this season, setting a EuroLeague record. It’s not like he’s just chucking shots up on a bad team either, as mentioned above he shot it at an astounding 50 percent clip from deep for the team with the best record in the EuroLeague.

He can shoot in a variety of ways; off the live dribble, pull-ups in transition, from deep range, off spot-ups, off movement (left-to-right, right-to-left), step-backs, you name it, he hits it.

Along with the shot, he has a tremendous burst of speed that allows him to get wherever he wants on the court at times, and really allows him to excel in transition. He isn’t the best playmaker in the world, but he’s improved at getting teammates involved and thrives when pushing the tempo. His shooting gravity alone will allow teammates off the second unit to get better looks (looking at you, Cam Johnson).

EuroLeague MVP

He played for Anadolu Efes, who finished 1st in the EuroLeague standings with a pristine record of 24-4. Being the best player on the best team in the EuroLeague typically means one thing: MVP honors.

You may also recognize some of his teammates, including former Sun Alec Peters, and former NBA players Rodrigue Beaubois, Chris Singleton, James Anderson, Tibor Pleiss and others. Most of the competition he’s going against has multiple former NBA players or players that are talented enough to be in the league. He also beat out former NBA sniper Nikola Mirotic (Barcelona) for MVP honors.

The year before Larkin signed with Anadolu Efes, they finished in last place in the EuroLeague, and Larkin’s main objective was not only for him to excel individually, but he wanted to change the culture and elevate them (Efes) into a respectable team. Mission accomplished on both fronts, in a short amount of time nonetheless.

The potential drawbacks

Nothing’s changed for Larkin as far as why he will have doubters at the NBA level, as he is just 5 foot 11 and undersized for a point guard. He was the 18th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft for a reason though, and sometimes it can take a long journey like Shane’s for players to reach their full potential.

If you’re getting Mike James vibes from him that’s fair, but it’s important to distinguish the massive difference in their three point shooting numbers. James in international play is a career 33% three point shooter while Larkin is a robust 41% from deep in his career. The aforementioned shooting versatility both off the dribble and off movement would give the Suns a look off their bench that they are desperately searching for.

He previously bounced around as a backup guard for Dallas, Brooklyn, New York and Boston. He’s been humbled and taken a long road to earn his spot, and never gave up during a difficult process which speaks volumes about his character.

Does he fit in Phoenix?

I believe his fit would be an excellent one as a backup point guard that can come in and provide a spark for 18-24 minutes per night. He is the type of player (and person) that will cherish another shot in the NBA and use the opportunity as motivation to prove that he not only belongs, but is here to stay. He won’t jump at just any NBA opportunity he gets though, as he’s already served his time as a “depth guard” that gets sporadic minutes in the past.

“I will not go back to the NBA as a third point guard. So, if any team asks about that, we’re not even gonna answer the phone,” Larkin said.

He signed a two-year deal with Efes worth an estimated $7.7 million that he is currently trying to restructure. If Phoenix wants to lure him back to the NBA they will likely have to start by topping that offer (2 year, $8 million+ range) and offer him a secure spot as their backup point guard, essentially guarenteeing him minutes. Anything short of those two thresholds being met would likely result in him (and his agent) declining their offer.

Larkin also recently adopted Turkish citizenship in order to represent Turkey in the Olympics, so it’s clear his stardom and comfort there will be difficult to top. Ultimately it’s going to take a strong sales pitch from James Jones and the Suns front office to convince him to leave a situation that has been dream-like for him, but it’s worth a shot at the very least.

Below is an excellent piece from “The Step Back” by Andrew Favakeh that I highly recommend if you’d like to indulge yourself on more of Larkin’s general background and success in Europe.

Related: Shane Larkin, Turkish star, will not be stopped.