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Landry Shamet has provided a shooting spark, but at what cost to team defense?

Landry Shamet has been a pleasant surprise for many Sixers fans over the first quarter of the 2018-2019 NBA season. Shamet hasn’t been lighting the floor on fire, but he’s carved out a significant role in Brett Brown’s rotation (over 20 MPG) despite being a late first round pick. How rare is Shamet’s immediate impact on the rotation? The five players selected at 26th overall (Shamet’s draft position) from 2013-2017 averaged 22 appearances for the entire season that immediately followed their selection, while Shamet has already played in 22 games (every game thus far).

While Shamet’s court exposure and role has exceeded expectations, his shooting contributions are right in line with what most Shamet stans predicted and desired. The rookie is hitting threes at a 39% clip on 8.1 attempts per 36 minutes. Unfortunately, Shamet’s defensive contributions are on par with what his detractors forecasted — he’s been an outright negative defensively. Consider the following:

  • Shamet’s defensive on/off point differential is +9.3 points, per Cleaning The Glass. That is to say that the Sixers give up 9.3 points per 100 possessions more when Shamet is on the court versus when he is off the court.
  • All-encompassing statistics portray Shamet as a negative on defense: -2.2 D-PIPM (per the Bball-Index), -2.45 DRPM (per ESPN), & -2.5 DBPM (per Bball-Ref).
  • Shamet’s defensive rating is 110.4, per NBA.com.

The offensive value of Landry’s floor spacing is clear. But the question is whether or not it is enough to overcome his defensive deficiencies. Before we reach any conclusions, let’s take a look at where Shamet is struggling on defense.

Screens

Landry Shamet gets stuck on screens like a mouse gets stuck in a glue trap. Opponents have taken notice of this, and they put Shamet through pick-and-rolls and screens as often as possible. Just take a look at the following play, and see if you spot our theme:

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you realized the theme. In the above play, Domantas Sabonis sets three screens on Shamet in a matter of six seconds. The play resulted in a turnover for the Pacers, but there’s a reason why they were so adamant about getting Shamet caught up in a pick-and-roll. Throughout the game, the Pacers scored with ease by setting on-ball screens on Shamet:

Those aren’t isolated incidents. Landry is not always tasked with guarding opposing point guards, but when he is, opponents frequently attack him via the pick-and-roll. For the rest of the season, I imagine they’ll continue to do so, because Shamet’s not getting confused or lacking awareness — he simply doesn’t have the physical makeup to fight through screens, which leads to his next flaw.

Physical/Athletic Ability

Shamet has solid height for a guard at 6’5”, but at 188 pounds, he’d have trouble pushing me or you off of a spot. The good news is that at just 21 years old, an NBA strength and conditioning program should be able to bulk Shamet up to a more imposing stature. But Shamet’s real physical limitation is his lack of speed in comparison to some of the quicker guards of the NBA. Take a look at the next play, in which Shamet is guarding the Brooklyn NetsSpencer Dinwiddie:

Dinwiddie didn’t even make a move on that play. He simply put the ball on the floor and drove right past Shamet with no resistance. Luckily, Joel Embiid was able to deter an attempt at an easy layup, and Dinwiddie had to settle for a floater from an awkward angle. But Shamet can’t always count on Joel to pick up the slack; at times it will cause Joel to get sucked out of position, just like this play against the Orlando Magic:

Again Shamet was bailed out — Nikola Vucevic missed a layup he should have made. But it’s clear that downhill ball handlers are able to get inside on Shamet, forcing Sixers rim-protectors to send help, often leaving opposing bigs open.

A quick first step routinely beats Shamet.

Solutions?

So is Shamet bound for eternal plus-minus hell? Not at all. But changes in Shamet himself won’t come overnight. There’s a learning curve to playing defense in the NBA, and Landry will learn the tendencies and attributes of his opponents while developing a better understanding of angles, which should help supplement his lack of relative lateral quickness. And as I touched on previously, Shamet will bulk up some. The combination of a stronger frame and improved footwork could do wonders.

He’ll always be hampered by his athleticism though. To that extent, Brett Brown needs to put Shamet in a position to succeed. As often as possible, Shamet needs to defend off-ball two-guards — he’s all too frequently defending the point-of-attack. Shamet’s pretty much of neutral value defending off the ball. (He’s generally aware of his assignment and doesn’t get lost, but he not disruptively active in the way someone like former Sixer Robert Covington is.) It’s when he’s on ball that he gets into trouble.

Another thing Brett Brown could experiment with, and it’s less of a solution for Shamet and more of an alternative to Shamet, is giving Furkan Korkmaz a portion of Shamet’s minutes. “Why do such a thing? This would be counterproductive to team development, as Shamet could be around for years on a cheap deal while Korkmaz will be a free agent next offseason.” That’s true. But trading for Jimmy Butler, removing Markelle Fultz from the starting lineup, shopping Markelle Fultz? The Sixers’ recent personnel decisions indicate a shift into win-now mode more than ever. Korkmaz is no all-defensive wing, but he’s shown improvement on that end and he’s been less of a turnstyle than Shamet.

The numbers and the film are real. Shamet is struggling mightily on defense, to the point that it’s more than offsetting what he brings as a shooter. He looks the part of a future effective sharp-shooting two-guard, but at this point in time, he’s a defensive liability. There’s nothing too wrong with that for a prospect — many rookies are negatives on D. But there is something wrong with that for a role player seeing over 20 minutes a game. I’m not saying Shamet should be stripped of his minutes. But a reduction might be necessary if the Sixers want to maximize wins right now (maybe they don’t if it means less floor time for Shamet!). Because when he’s not draining from deep, and sometimes even when he is, his defensive struggles can be so glaring that the team is no longer being helped by Landry, and instead is having to overcome Landry.

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