Devontae Shuler: a name NBA fans should know

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The 2021 Dallas Summer League Mavericks weren’t the greatest show on Earth. They didn’t have much lottery talent (or none, really). Their best player, Josh Green, didn’t end up playing because he just returned from the Olympics (even though he barely played in the Olympics). And their next best player, Tyrell Terry, was injured in the team’s second game, forcing him to miss the next three.

None of this is to say there weren’t any fun guys on the team. Nate Hinton and Eugene Omoruyi are two-way street players for the Mavs and they both had a great time in the Summer League. But I don’t want to focus on these guys right now. I want to focus on a guy who isn’t on an NBA roster but who might be doing it soon. This guy is called Devontae Shuler.

Shuler was a four-year varsity player at Ole Miss, making the All-SEC first team its senior season. He was not drafted in the 2021 NBA Draft but ended up signing with the Mavericks Summer League team. Shuler didn’t play much at the start of the Summer League, but as the days went by he saw more and more minutes. Summer Mavericks head coach Greg St. Jean told me box scores would show Shuler’s minutes increasing with every game – and he was right. He also said it wasn’t due to injuries in the squad – it was because Devontae won more and more minutes. And how did he earn those minutes? Relentless and annoying defense.

“His defensive engine is incredible,” said St. Jean. “His pressure on the ball – that wasn’t something we saw a ton in our training camp and then when I challenged the group to take his pressure off the ball, him, Feron Hunt and LJ Figueroa took it upon themselves to be defensive parasites, and I thought he did an amazing job on the comeback and set the tone for our defensive pressure overall.

Let’s focus on Shuler’s defense for now. It’s something he’s shown Ole Miss time and time again, ultimately finishing in the SEC top 20 in several defensive measures. And man, did it seem boring to play against in the Summer League. I’m talking about active hands and no airspace – similar to how it looks in the clip below.

I asked Devontae if the defensive side of the ball is where he sees himself having the most impact on the next level, and here is what he said:

“Definitely, especially at the start until they know I can score the ball really well. I always try to show that I can defend because these days, you know, a lot of guys can know how to score the ball. balloon, but few guys are going to lock and try to stop.

It scores a good point! NBA fringe players usually don’t crack spins by showing they have good isolation movement with the ball in their hands. They usually get minutes by pushing each other harder than anyone else, and Devontae has shown he has that in him.

The fun part about Devontae is that if he earns a spot on the roster with his defense, he’ll have a natural opportunity to show off his offense – and there’s a lot to show.

He’s got a bit of a choppy game with the ball in his hands, and he’s more athletic than you might think. But to understand how talented Devontae is and always has been, you have to go back to his high school days when he played AAU with Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Not only was he playing with these guys, but he was better than these guys. He was the number one option on offense.

“We have definitely destroyed everyone in the country,” Shuler said. “In this team, I was the main player. I scored most of the points.

Words cannot describe how much I love that Devontae came out and said he was the main guy on a team with two guys who are now considered some of the brightest young stars in professional basketball. Looks like it wasn’t a secret, but I love that Devontae always carries this with him. He grew up as a talented player on a talented team, and now he’s overlooked. This is the type of advantage that sometimes drives guys to excel to the next level.

“I’ve always been a bit of the underdog,” Shuler told me. “Politics has always been against me, and I’ve always had to face it.”

So what’s next for Devontae Shuler?

He is currently listed as an unrestricted free agent which means he can sign with whomever he can agree to terms with. Maybe that means it will find a place both ways. Maybe that means he’ll sign with a G League side. Maybe that means he’ll be going overseas for a while.

The Mavericks don’t have spots available either way and their training camp roster is full, so if they want to keep him in-house, they should sign him to their G League affiliate, the Texas Legends. Hopefully that ends up being the case because Shuler is a guy Mavs fans will fall in love with if he can sneak 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 has a chance, he’s gonna take it.

There is a lot going against any undrafted guy and there are reasons they are not drafted. Shuler, for example, lacks the prototypical NBA body at 6ft 2in and 185lb. But don’t be surprised if you hear his name called out on an NBA show at some point in his career. He has all the skills on and off the pitch to make it happen.

If you’re wondering which players Devontae is modeling his game on, he’ll paint a pretty clear picture for you. “My defensive end, I admire Patrick Beverley a lot,” Shuler told me. “He’s one of my favorite players to watch, just because he’s so mind-blowing. And on the offensive side, I compare my game a bit to that of Jamal Crawford. ”

Well, a Patrick Beverley / Jamal Crawford crossover would be a really good NBA player that the Mavericks could use day in and day out. And honestly, those are good comparisons for Devontae. Neither of these guys are All-NBA level talent, but they both carved out long NBA careers through the pursuit of their role and the excellence within it.

Devontae Shuler may never be an All-Star, but sometimes it’s these guys who end up making a huge difference in a long NBA season. The odds are against Shuler, but he doesn’t mind. He is ready to work and show that he belongs to the big guys.

Mavericks fans, keep an eye out for this guy.


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