The little fella with "tiny hands" has an enormous chip on his shoulder.
After spending his sophomore season in the NBA with the New York Knicks, Shane Larkin will bring his cat-quickness to the Brooklyn Nets in 2015-16.
His former boss, Knicks president Phil Jackson, had some peculiar comments for the 22-year-old on his way out the door this summer.
As told to Charley Rosen in ESPN's Phil Files:
His play did improve, but he's still a long shot to be back with us. He's incredibly quick but he doesn't use his speed the way he should. Shane mainly wants to get his shot off a high screen-roll situation when he should be pushing the ball and getting his shots in an open floor. Another problem is that he can't control the ball because he has such tiny hands. For sure, every team needs a small, quick guard, but there are a lot of guys like that available.
At Nets Media Day on Monday, Larkin responded. It wasn’t quite Drake-to-Meek Mill, but the point guard’s message was clear.
"I was going to palm a ball and put it on Instagram for him, but I feel like that wasn’t the best move," Larkin said when asked about the Zen Master. "I never met a man so concerned with another man’s hands, but it’s all good."
And then, slickly chuckling with his head down, "I don’t have anything but love for Phil Jackson and that whole organization."
Jackson had the Knicks running his beloved triangle offense last year, and that didn’t mesh with Larkin’s game. The 5’11" energizer would look more at home on a park court than a Catholic school league dripping with rigid Princeton offenses.
"There’s no hiding that last year I wasn’t the most comfortable in the situation," Larkin said. "I did my best to learn the system and play within the system, but obviously -- as they saw and as I saw -- we just weren’t the best fit for one another. I’m more of an up-and-down, pick-and-roll kind of guy."
Head coach Lionel Hollins and general manager Billy King called Larkin at midnight on July 1 and made it clear that the Nets wanted him. Badly.
Larkin said other teams were interested, but none were as aggressive as Brooklyn.
"I like his quickness and athleticism," Hollins said about his new point guard. "He’s a guy that I put a high value on when he was in college. Didn’t have the opportunity to draft him, but I thought about him, and I liked him."
So when the Knicks washed their hands of him, Brooklyn was quick to swoop in.
"He brings a different element when you talk about speed and quickness, the ability to go up the court and pick up somebody," the coach continued. "He can shoot the ball, he can penetrate. He’s been the league a couple of years and hasn’t really had an opportunity."
With Deron Williams out the door, the Nets need ball-handlers. Jarrett Jack will likely get first crack at starting, but players like Larkin, Donald Sloan and Markel Brown figure to earn time, too.
"I feel everybody is going into it trying to start," Larkin said. "That’s what you want to do as a basketball player. Everybody wants to play 48 minutes a night. So yeah – I want to start, I want to play 30-plus minutes, I want to be the leader of this team. I want to do all of that."
Hollins didn’t exactly give Jack a ringing endorsement as the starter. So maybe (possibly?), eventually, Larkin could take over.
"Who said Jarrett Jack was starting?" Hollins asked the media. "I read that in the paper. I said that those core guys are going to have the first dibs at training camp, and as we go forward. There is going to be one or two guys who are pretty much cut in stone, and then after that, everybody has to earn the right."
But as a returning player with experience in the first five, it’s hard to believe Jack won’t begin the season as the primary floor general.
Dual-PG lineups are an option, too. Don’t forget that two years ago, the Nets won 44 games and went to the conference semifinals with D-Will and Shaun Livingston sharing the backcourt. And Hollins used Jack and D-Will together last season.
Hollins’ description of an ideal roster seemed to further the two-PG notion.
"I like to have multiple ball-handlers," he said. "I like to get the ball up the court quicker, play in the flow more."
Brown said directly that he believes it’s a possibility.
"I think so," Brown quickly answered when asked about the notion of Hollins running out two PGs at a time. "We have a lot of short guys. So yes, I think we will."
To say that Markel Brown is athletic is to say that water is wet. It's understood.
Larkin, though, has kind of flown under the radar. Refer back to what I wrote about him back on July 10:
Those kinds of terms are thrown around a lot these days. Player XYZ is electrifying, and so on.
But the 5’11" former Knick really is. His 44-inch max-vert at the 2013 combine was, at the time, the second-highest ever recorded. He was also the fastest player there, finishing with a 3.08 three-quarter sprint. Just for context, John Wall, who leaves a trail of smoke behind him every time he hits full stride on the fast break, had a 3.14 in 2010.
Still, the young fella can’t rely solely on athleticism. As Hollins said when talking about Jack, modern-day point guards have to be able to score.
"All the point guards that are successful can score the ball," he said. "If you can’t score, you’re not a successful point guard, because nobody plays you. Primarily, the NBA is a pick-and-roll league."
Larkin realizes this. A career 30.5 percent three-pointer shooter in the pros, he spent time this summer working on extending his range.
"I’m still young (22), so I still have a lot of growing to do," he said. "Obviously, my three-point shooting isn’t where I want it to be. Teams are going to go under on me, so I have to make them pay. That’s what I worked on most this offseason."
He also talked about developing a rapport with Brook Lopez in the P-n-R.
"It’s wonderful," Larkin said with a smile. "He’s a big guy – 7’1", all bulky. He sets a big screen. If my man touches any part of him, he pretty much just dies on the screen. And then I’m in the lane against a big guy."
Larkin truly seems to be zoned in on earning playing time on his new team.
But those Jackson comments…
He just can’t let them go. As Media Day was wrapping up, Larkin was walking around with a ball palmed firmly in his hand.
He wanted it noticed.
"He’s old school," Larkin said of Jackson. "He’s blatant about what he says, and he knows what he wants. Obviously he has the jewelry to say what he has to say. He’s proven that he’s a great leader and if that’s what he feels about me, that’s what he feels about me. I’m not on his team anymore, so he doesn’t have to worry about it."
The Nets are hoping that Jackson does worry about Larkin -- about stopping him and Lopez on the pick-and-roll, about letting him go, about what could have been for the ‘Bockers.
For Larkin, though, those knocks on his body and his game are added fuel in a gas tank that is about to get its first real shot at the open road.
"To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever been any more excited going into a season than I am this year," he said. "Just from what coach is telling me, what Billy’s told me. I feel like this could definitely be my breakout year in the league."