Four months after he was drafted, there's still a lot we don't know about Shane Larkin. The Mavs first-round pick broke his ankle in July, an injury that has kept him out of Summer League and all of the preseason. With only his college experience to draw on, it's unclear whether the 21-year old will be able to help Dallas as a rookie. Combine that with Rick Carlisle's notorious reluctance to play young players and Larkin looks headed for a lot of time in Frisco.
In terms of skill-set and feel for the game, Larkin is the equal of any of the PG's taken ahead of him. He lasted until the No. 18 pick mainly because of concerns about his size. At 5'11 170 with a 5'11 wingspan, he was the smallest player in this year's draft. With Isaiah Thomas moving to the bench in Sacramento, Larkin is smaller than every starting PG in the league. Most successful small guards (Chris Paul, Ty Lawson and Jameer Nelson) are thicker, checking in at 195-200.
A guy with Larkin's size doesn't have much margin for error in the NBA. To overcome being smaller than nearly everyone he matches up with, he has to have almost no holes in his game. DJ Augustin, a first-team All-American at Texas who never lived up to being the No. 9 pick in 2008, is probably his worst-case scenario. At 5'10 170, Augustin's streaky jumper and inability to finish in the lane has made him very inefficient. We won't even get into his defense, which is what it is.
The good news is that size is the only red flag in Larkin's profile. As you would expect from the son of an MLB Hall of Famer, he's an elite athlete, with blazing quickness and a jaw-dropping 44' max vertical. There's a lot of JJ Barea in his game, except he is a far more consistent playmaker and decision-maker. Larkin is a true point guard with a complete offensive arsenal: he can shoot from deep, pull-up off the dribble, run the pick and roll and control the tempo of the game.
At Miami, Larkin was the engine of one of the best teams in school history. The Hurricanes, who were ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, finished the season with a 29-7 record and a Sweet 16 appearance. Larkin averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game on 48/41/77 shooting. The only non-senior in their starting lineup, he was the co-ACC Player of the Year, a first-team All-ACC selection and a third-team All-American.
With Larkin at the helm, Miami ran an offense most NBA fans would recognize. They were a spread pick-and-roll team with a stretch 4 (Kenny Kadji) and shooters all around the perimeter. Everything was based off Larkin getting into the lane, drawing the defense and finding shooters. Unlike most lead guards in college, he had a great sense for when to distribute the ball and when to look for his own shot.
The highlight of the Hurricanes season was the 90-63 beating they put on then No. 1 Duke in January, which I only bring up so I can show this glorious bit of video:
In theory, Larkin should be able to walk on to an NBA roster and do many of the same things he did at Miami. Last season, as a 20-year old, he would have been the best PG on the Mavs roster. Unfortunately, after Dallas stocked up on the position in the off-season, it's hard to see where the minutes are for Larkin. If Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris are all healthy, there isn't much room for another small guard in the rotation.
And while playing in the D-League might help Larkin, it would reflect very poorly on the Mavs decision-making process. Why draft an NBA-ready player with a low ceiling if you aren't going to use him right away? Before they began trading down in a bizarre attempt to clear cap space, Dallas had the No. 13 pick, their highest selection in a decade. If they were looking for a guy to stash in Frisco for the year, there were players with a lot more upside available.
Down the road, the two that could haunt the Mavs are Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15) and Dennis Schroeder (No. 17). European teenagers with as much talent as anyone in this year's draft, they slipped because of questions about their level of competition and the limited amount of film available on them. Antetokounmpo is 6'9 200 with a 7'3 wingspan; Schroeder is 6'2 170 with a 6'7 wingspan. A GM can dream on players like that.
They may have been too raw for a franchise trying to make one more push with Dirk Nowitzki, but both showed enough in Summer League and the preseason to be trade assets. If they put up numbers in the D-League, other front offices would be intrigued. Larkin, on the other hand, is not going to be highly sought after unless he's producing in Dallas. If he dominates in Frisco, people will question whether his size will translate.
Unfortunately, while asset management is the name of the game in the modern NBA, the only "asset" the Mavs developed in the last two years was cap space. Picking at No. 17 (2012) and No. 13 (2013) should have replenished their talent base, but that can't happen when you draft a 5'11 PG and don't play him. Harris is not becoming a trade asset at 30; Gal Mekel's best-case scenario is a solid backup. These aren't guys who should be taking minutes from Larkin.
There's something to be said for developing young players and letting them play through their mistakes. Five years ago, Gregg Popovich stuck with a rookie as his backup PG, giving a 22-year old with an 11.6 PER over 16 minutes a night. Two seasons later, the Spurs turned George Hill into Kawhi Leonard. Sticking with Hill was a small thing at the time, but the commitment to maximizing draft assets is one of the main reasons why the Spurs have lapped their old rival.