Shane Larkin has revived his basketball career in Istanbul. Should he return to the NBA, how big will the market be for the former first-round pick?
Shane Larkin isn’t rushing the trip from Istanbul back to the NBA. But if the former first-round pick ever does decide to return, he’ll have likely earned a bit more respect for this potential second go-round.
The last time Larkin stepped foot onto an NBA court, those who cared probably wondered how much longer the moment would last. Larkin, a rotational player at this point, only saw 105 seconds of action in the Boston Celtics’ Game 4 playoff loss back in 2019. Boston would go on to play eight more games that postseason.
A shoulder injury would ensure Larkin didn’t dress with the team for any of them.
But there’s no story quite like a basketball comeback story, and Larkin is finding that out firsthand. Last week, the Anadolu Efes guard pieced together a 49-point outing — the highest-scoring game in EuroLeague history — in a Round 11 contest against Bayern Munich.
From struggling to crack a postseason depth chart to the marquee star on the best team in the EuroLeague. From playing backup to the backup point guard to being recognized as the EuroLeague’s Most Valuable Player for November. From wondering what NBA team might take a chance on him next to the potential of NBA scouts flying out to Istanbul to see him in action?
A lot’s changed during the 12-month span in which Larkin went from clocking in DNPs to bringing home Finals MVPs. The 27-year-old says he now views Turkey as “home.” But if that grass on the other side — in this case, the NBA — ever tempts Larkin, here are a few of the reasons why.
For those unfamiliar, Larkin was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder that leaves its victims with excessive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors.
It’s a condition not all that prevalent in public NBA circles. And for that reason, Larkin was at first hesitant about the idea of sharing the condition with the world. During ESPN’s five-part, mental health and meditation series, senior writer Jackie MacMullan helped shed light on that.
Larkin shielded the condition from his friends and teammates. Only his family was fully tuned in to his agonizing attempts to get through the day. “I didn’t want people to think I was some kind of weirdo,” Larkin says.
In that column, we learn that more often than not, Larkin’s battle with OCD would become a game of numbers. The first number he’d see would define the day. On that morning’s edition of SportsCenter, highlights of then-Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen’s eight 3-point barrage are the focus. For Larkin, he knows that means he must wash his hands eight times that day, sometimes to the point of bloody sores.
Understanding that, we can fast forward. By the time Larkin had found his way as the prized recruit at DePaul University, he was taking five showers a day. That summer, he left the university altogether, citing an “undisclosed medical condition” as the reason being.
As we’ve seen with other professional athletes, Larkin is turning his mental disorder into a cause for curiosity. In a November interview with EuroHoops’ writer Antonis Stroggylakis, the Turkish League Finals MVP confirmed that he has been in talks with different organizations, driven to help people understand that they aren’t alone in that fight.
His condition would often leave him hoping for a low number. Now, he’s come to terms with how to deal with it. In turn, his points per game and production are anything but low.
How’s this for a notable? Shane Larkin has been a professional basketball player for seven years. This is the first time in his career that he’s been able to return to the team he played the previous season on.
The round-the-world tour has included pit stops with the Dallas Mavericks (2013-14), New York Knicks (2014-15), across the street to the Brooklyn Nets (2015-16), a trip across the world to Baskonia, Spain (2016-17), a circle trip to Boston (2017-18) and then Larkin’s new home with the Anadolu Efes.
This year, the Efes are reaping the benefits of allowing Larkin comfort in returning to a system. In that interview, Larkin spoke about the freedom to be himself, a chance to be the player he was at the University of Miami.
Should Larkin return to the NBA for the third time, there’s a chance we see a storyline centered around how he improved at this or that. Maybe that turns out to be true. But in watching both Larkin’s EuroLeague film, and then random games from his NBA tenure, one thing is clear: Larkin has always had that wiggle, that inane ability to read pick-and-rolls and find ways to make ball meet net. This time around, it just so happens to feel like he’s fully comfortable in his role, and that freedom and stability are likely a few reasons for that.
“There are so many guys in the NBA that have much more to their game, that you have no idea,” Shane Larkin said in an interview last year, hitting a table for emphasis. He wasn’t talking about himself — instead, he was asked about Aron Baynes’ sudden 3-point touch — but he may as well have been.
Within learning a new offense every year, you have to wonder if Larkin was ever given a legitimate opportunity to showcase his talents in a system that fit. Looking at his two-year New York run, for example, he went from running a triangle offense with the Knicks to a more post-centric offense for Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez in Brooklyn.
Unsurprisingly, those teams went 38-126 combined.
In looking at Larkin more closely, you look at the 256 games he played in his NBA career. He was only able to get up double-digit shot attempts 19 times. Within a defined, upgraded role in the EuroLeague, Larkin is thriving. To list a few of those milestones:
- In last season’s EuroLeague Playoffs, Larkin averaged more points per game than any other player, averaging a full bucket more than former NBA champion and CSKA Moscow guard Nando De Colo.
- As mentioned, Larkin was named Most Valuable Player for November. At the moment, he ranks No. 1 in PIR — the near-equivalent to the NBA’s efficiency (EFF) statistic — a compilation of points, rebounds, assists and efficiency, among others.
- The only players to score more points in a single Final Four than Larkin? Nikos Galis, a man once referred to as the Michael Jordan of EuroLeague basketball, 1975 NBA MVP Bob McAdoo and Alexander Volkov, a 1991 FIBA’s Top 50 Greatest Player recipient.
Needless to say, Larkin is hitting his stride in Istanbul. Which leaves us with one question: What teams could eventually come calling?
He has made it clear in the past that he won’t return to the NBA for merely a decent opportunity. In a perfect world, a team with Larkin probably features at least a few of these: a non-restrictive offense, pick-and-roll action, a 3-point centered philosophy and lastly, the chance to advance into that starting, >20 minutes per game role.
A few teams that come to mind:
- Pace: 14th in NBA
- Pick-and-rolls: 27th in NBA
- 3-pointers attempted: 23rd in NBA
When DraftExpress analyst Jonathan Givony first mentioned the idea of Larkin returning to the NBA a week ago, one of the first teams brought up was the LA Lakers.
Los Angeles is looking down at the rest of the Western Conference, by their 20-3 record. Even so, it’s still worth the wonder of if they have enough players that can effectively create their shot.
We know about the greatness of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and how their gravitational pull leads to easier looks for everyone else involved. But with Larkin, they’d be bringing in another self-made scorer, who can also create shots for others on that second unit.
Over his first NBA run, only 36.7 percent of Larkin’s 2-point shots were assisted. And as evidenced by his EuroLeague play, he’s grown comfortable with those above-the-break shots the league has come to love.
The Lakers assumed the reserve guard spot was essentially a lock with Quinn Cook. As of late, though, Cook has fallen out of the rotation, putting together most of his highlights in garbage time. He’s racked up four DNPs over his last eight games and is playing the fewest minutes per game since his rookie season. Perhaps, for the Lakers, their pursuit as world champions requires a little bit of travel.
- Pace: 5th in NBA
- Pick-and-rolls: 21st in NBA
- 3-pointers attempted: 5th in NBA
If Larkin wants to maximize his production in today’s NBA, it’s difficult to imagine a few teams giving him a better chance to do so than the Timberwolves. With top-5 ranks in both pace and 3-point shots, he would be entering a system that caters to his strengths.
And then, you think about some of the pick-and-roll partners in Larkin’s past: Aron Baynes, Brook Lopez, and Andrea Bargnani. It feels safe to say that success would be ratcheted up when combined with Karl-Anthony Towns.
Only six teams in the NBA get less production out of their point guards than the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team has been most of its work from the ever-solid Jeff Teague. But when he leaves the court, he’s substituted by trouble.
Let’s give respect to Josh Okogie as one of the league’s fiercest defenders who typically subs in for Teague. But when your reserve point guard owns a career 1.3 assist average and shoots 28.9 percent from 3-point range, that doesn’t bode well.
Minnesota should be bolstered by the return of Shabazz Napier, who went through a 13-game absence with a strained hamstring. But it never hurts to have depth at the league’s most important position, especially after allowing 18.0 points per game to walk away in free agency.
- Pace: 20th in NBA
- PIck-and-rolls: 19th in NBA
- 3-pointers attempted: 28th in NBA
Much has been made about the NBA’s transformation into positionless basketball. While that’s become to watch, here are the facts: The Golden State Warriors have two point guards on their depth chart. One of those two is on the injured reserve until February.
Because of that, the Warriors have turned their attention to Ky Bowman, a solid rookie guard from Boston College, for half of the game’s minutes at guard. The team remains in good hands with All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell returning to his natural position, but recently, we’ve seen the effects that come with having him completely carry an offense. Since returning from his thumb injury, Russell is averaging 4.3 turnovers per game (this would rank fifth in the NBA).
To compound that: Since Stephen Curry’s injury, only three players have had a higher usage rate than Russell. Those three — Luka Doncic, James Harden, and Giannis Antetokounmpo — expect to be among the NBA’s MVP race throughout the year. Russell? Not so much.
Giving Russell another versatile point guard could be beneficial for his long-term health, while also helping the Warriors configure the lineup they plan to enter the 2019-20 season with.
And no, a player of Larkin’s talent won’t be subjected to just these three measly offers. The numbers are absolutely on his side at this point. The Anadolu Efes has had a combined five players play 868 games in the NBA.
Even so, if Larkin never again steps foot on an NBA court, he’s already beaten the odds in many ways. Combine the history of the NBA, the ABA, the BAA — whatever acronym you can conjure up — and you’ll find that only 277 players 6-feet and under have ever gone pro in America. You can slice it even further: Only one-fourth of that sample survives at least 250 games — give-or-take three full seasons in the NBA.
Larkin is among them. And regardless of the setting — be it Istanbul or California — one thing’s for certain: The 27-year-old has already proved victorious in his most challenging pursuits.