The 2021 Summer League Dallas Mavericks weren’t the greatest show on Earth. They didn’t have a lot of lottery talent (or any, really). Their best player, Josh Green, didn’t end up playing because he just got back from the Olympics (even though he barely played in the Olympics). And their next best player, Tyrell Terry, got injured in the team’s second game, forcing him to miss the next three.
None of that is to say that there weren’t fun guys on the team. Nate Hinton and Eugene Omoruyi are the Mavs’ two-way players and they both had some nice moments in Summer League. But I don’t want to focus on those guys right now. I want to focus on a guy who isn’t on an NBA roster but might be soon. That guy is Devontae Shuler.
Shuler was a four-year college player at Ole Miss, making the All-SEC First Team his senior season. He went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft but ended up signing with the Mavericks Summer League team. Shuler didn’t play a whole lot at the beginning of Summer League, but as the days flew by, he saw more and more minutes. Summer Mavericks Head Coach Greg St. Jean told me that the box scores would show Shuler’s minutes went up every game — and he was right. He also said it wasn’t due to injuries on the team — it was because Devontae earned more and more minutes. And how did he earn those minutes? Relentless, pesky defense.
“His defensive motor is incredible,” said St. Jean. “His on-ball pressure — that wasn’t something we saw a ton in our training camp, and then when I challenged the group to pick up their ball pressure, he, Feron Hunt and LJ Figueroa took it upon themselves to be defensive pests, and I thought he did an incredible job at the point of pick-up and set the tone for our defensive pressure overall.”
Let’s keep the focus on Shuler’s defense for now. That was something he showed time and time again at Ole Miss, ultimately ending up in the top-20 in the SEC in multiple defensive metrics. And man, did it seem like he was annoying to play against in Summer League. I’m talking active hands and no air space — similar to how he looks in the clip below.
I asked Devontae if the defensive side of the ball is where he sees himself making the biggest impact at the next level, and here’s what he said:
“Definitely — especially at the beginning until they get to know that I can score the ball really well. I always be trying to show that I can defend, because nowadays, you know, a lot of guys can know how to score the ball, but not a lot of guys are gonna lock in and actually try to get a stop.”
He makes a good point! Fringe NBA players don’t usually crack rotations by showing they have a nice isolation move with the ball in their hands. They usually get minutes by hustling harder than anyone else is willing to, and Devontae showed he has that in him.
The fun part about Devontae is that if he earns a roster spot with his defense, he’ll get a natural opportunity to show off his offense — and there’s a lot to show off.
He’s got a little bit of the herky-jerky game with the ball in his hands, and he’s more athletic than you might think. But to understand how truly talented of a hooper Devontae is and always was, you have to go back to his high school days when he was playing AAU with Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Not only was he playing with those guys, but he was better than those guys. He was the number one option on offense.
“We definitely destroyed everyone in the country,” said Shuler. “On that team, I was the main guy. I scored the majority of the points.”
Words can’t describe how much I love that Devontae came out and said that he was the main guy on a team with two guys who are now considered to be some of the brightest young stars in professional basketball. It sounds like it was no secret, but I love that Devontae still carries that with him. He grew up as a talented player on a talented team, and now he’s getting overlooked. That’s the type of edge that sometimes pushes guys to excel at the next level.
“I’ve always been kind of the underdog,” Shuler told me. “Politics have always been against me, and I’ve always had to deal with it.”
So, what’s next for Devontae Shuler?
He’s currently listed as an unrestricted free agent, meaning he can sign with whoever he can agree to terms with. Maybe that means, he’ll find a two-way spot. Maybe it means he’ll sign with a G League team. Maybe it means he’ll head overseas for a while.
The Mavericks don’t have any two-way spots open, and their training camp roster is full, so if they want to keep him in-house, they’d have to sign him to their G League affiliate, the Texas Legends. I hope that ends up being the case because Shuler is a guy Mavs fans will fall in love with if he can sneak his way into the big leagues. He defends as hard as anyone (both on and off the ball), he can make plays off the dribble, he moves well off the ball, he has a high basketball IQ, and he can create his own shot. If this kid gets a chance, he’s going to take advantage of it.
There’s a lot stacked against any undrafted guy and there are reasons they go undrafted. Shuler, for example, doesn’t have the prototypical NBA body at 6-foot-2, and 185 pounds. But don’t be surprised if you hear his name being called during an NBA broadcast at some point in his career. He has all of the on-court skills and off-court intangibles to make it happen.
If you’re wondering which players Devontae models his game after, he’ll paint a pretty clear picture for you. “My defensive end, I look up to Patrick Beverley a lot,” Shuler told me. “That’s one of my favorite players to watch, just because he’s so scrappy. And on my offensive end, I kinda compare my game to Jamal Crawford a little bit.”
Well hey, a Patrick Beverley/Jamal Crawford crossover would be a pretty good NBA player that the Mavericks could use day in and day out. And honestly, those are good comparisons for Devontae. Neither one of those guys is an All-NBA level talent, but they both carved out long NBA careers thanks to finding their role and excelling within it.
Devontae Shuler might never be an All-Star, but sometimes, it’s those fringe guys that end up making a huge difference over the course of a lengthy NBA season. The odds are stacked against Shuler, but he doesn’t mind. He’s ready to work and show that he belongs with the big boys.
Mavericks fans, keep an eye out for this guy.