In his 53 NBA games rookie Landry Shamet has made timely plays, hit clutch shots, completed four-point plays in pressure situations, and gained the trust of his team. It’s all very different from seven months ago, when he had zero expectations for his professional career.
Everything Shamet has done in the NBA makes the time leading up to the 2018 draft seem even further in the past.
Before Shamet was selected 26th overall by the 76ers, before he was traveling the country taking part in NBA workouts, he had to make the difficult decision to leave Wichita State. Teammate Fred VanVleet, who now plays for the Toronto Raptors and was a senior when Shamet was a freshman, took him under his wing as best he could.
“Going through the whole draft process, he needed advice and someone to talk to about things and how to handle it,” VanVleet said. “First thing I told him was to leave, leave while he could. It’s a chance to change your life forever and change your family’s life forever. I told him to bet on himself.”
VanVleet noted that college players often are pressured to return to college rather than leave early for the NBA, and that the confidence of a teenager can easily be shaken by outside noise from coaches, draft projections, and anyone else that chooses to weigh in.
“They almost make you feel guilty for wanting to go be a millionaire and live out your dreams,” VanVleet said. “People will tell you that you’re not going to get drafted or all that it won’t work out. But he knew how good he was, we all knew how good he was.”
Shamet only played three games his 2015 freshmen year before redshirting the season because of a stress fracture in his left foot that required surgery. In Shamet’s first full season with the Shockers, he averaged 11.4 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from deep. That summer, Shamet again had surgery to repair a stress fracture, this time in his right foot.
He rebounded from the injury and averaged 14.9 points, shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three in the 2017-18 season.
“I thought he needed one more year,” Wichita coach Gregg Marshall said. “I thought he needed a little bit more seasoning, but I wasn’t going to try to talk him out of it. I didn’t want to be the guy that told him not to go, then what if he breaks his foot again and doesn’t have a shot at the NBA, I would have felt terrible. It was nerve-wracking. We can’t replace a guy like Landry Shamet on the fly. But he came in and said ‘I’m going to bet on myself,' which is Fred’s line."
Shamet spent time with his mother, Melanie, and a close group that helped him make the decision to declare for the 2018 NBA draft. Despite low draft projections, past injuries, advice coming from every direction, and self-doubt, Shamet said one last conversation with VanVleet sealed the deal.
“When I got down to the guts of it, it was something that Fred told me that really stuck with me. He said ‘If you come to terms with the fact that things might not turn out the way you want them to but you know yourself and you trust that you can do the work and that you belong, then it’s an easy decision to bet on yourself.’ It sounds simple when you say it like that but it really resonated with me," Shamet said. “That was all I needed to hear.”
Betting on himself became his first mantra. The second was don’t have expectations.
By keeping expectations low, and focusing his energy on the things that he could control, Shamet figured he could avoid disappointment and have a greater chance at success. If there are no expectations, anything positive would be impressive, right?
Brett Brown didn’t expect for Shamet to have such an immediate impact, instead figuring that the rookie would spend some time in the G League before getting NBA minutes.
Shamet knew that he was coming into a Sixers team that had lofty goals and a lot of guards who were ahead of him in the pecking order. But injuries to both Markelle Fultz and Zhaire Smith opened the door of opportunity, and Shamet walked right in.
Shamet is the only player on the Sixers who has played in every game of the season and among rookies who have played at least 25 games he leads in three-point percentage (40.6). On Jan. 8, Shamet set a rookie franchise record for the Sixers hitting eight three-pointers in a single game and finishing the night with a career-high 29 points in a win over the Washington Wizards.
On Thursday, in a road-win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Shamet had a sequence that showed off his abilities on both ends of the floor. He chased down Quinn Cook in transition for a huge block, ran back to the other end and hit a three, drawing a foul, then sank the ensuing free throw.
“The play he made [against the Warriors] where follows in transition, gets the big block, then hits on the other end, those are big plays,” Marshall said of Shamet. “He’s got some athleticism and he’ll just continue to get bigger and stronger. He has a long frame that he hasn’t completely filled out yet.”
Though his former coach believed Shamet would need more time, he said he’s not surprised that Shamet professional career is off to such a great start. And, despite the impact Shamet’s leaving had on the Shockers, Marshall said he’s happy.
“We’re struggling right now, so it definitely affected us and a lot of people, but it was the right decision for him and I applaud Landry for making it,” he said. “We’re his biggest fans.”
Even though VanVleet was the one who told Shamet to bet on himself, he had his concerns, too. He knew that Shamet would flourish as a shooting guard in the NBA, but was worried that after playing point guard at Wichita that teams would try to make him a point guard in the NBA.
Marshall had some similar concerns, knowing that it would take the right team and situation in order for Shamet’s talents to be utilized in the right way.
“You have to give the Sixers a lot of credit for their vision and seeing the role that he can fit,” VanVleet said.
VanVleet and Shamet continue to stay in contact, even more now than when they were teammates in college. Even their mothers have become close friends, keeping in contact through Facebook.
The two former Shockers will meet again on Tuesday when the Raptors are in Philadelphia for the last time this season.
“He was there from the jump to help me and be a source for everything I needed to know about coming into the league. He told me that I belong and I don’t even know if he knows how huge that was,” Shamet said. “It’s a huge confidence boost when you’re trying to decide what to do, you’re a college kid and you have a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate telling you that you’re good enough.”