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FILM STUDY: It’s only fitting Landry Shamet made biggest defensive play of Suns game

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Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

It only makes sense that Landry Shamet put the final nail in the coffin against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. For fear of spoiling the punchline, it’s probably best to backtrack to the beginning.

No player has taken more crap than Landry Shamet within online Nets communities this season (aside from maybe Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot) in the recent weeks. With every missed three, moans and groans would ensue –– virtual ones, of course –– jam-packed with hashtags and schoolyard name-calling. Much of this pertained to how Landry got here in the first place; on Draft Night 2020, Shamet was sent to Brooklyn from Los Angeles in a three-way deal that required the Nets to send its own first-round pick (#19) to Detroit, which was then used to select Saddiq Bey. (Brooklyn also landed small-ball linchpin Bruce Brown in a later iteration of this deal, but that’s neither here nor there for the fan base).

Bey has looked nothing short of studly since landing in D-Town, producing at a 42.2 percent 3-point efficiency off the rip, and even winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Tuesday morning. In a Nets season with such mountainous expectations, every step forward (or backward) holds double, hell, triple its weight; with every transaction, opportunity cost must be weighed on an unforgiving scale.

As Bey’s swaggering rookie campaign cleared for takeoff, Shamet struggled to find his footing in his new coastal home. In his first 11 games, the 23-year-old put up just 4.7 points on 31.4 percent from the field and 25.6% from three, not what the Nets expected from the 40 percent career shooter.

Fans, in large part, lost their minds at what could’ve been as Bey poured in 15 points against the Nets themselves on February 9. But while Shamet’s shot faltered and his minutes varied nightly –– earning three straight DNPs from January 23 to January 27 –– his confidence never really wavered, hunkering down on steadfast faith in his work. Fittingly, as a player who clawed his way into the league with the Philadelphia 76ers, he’s a believer in his process. (So were we.)

“I haven’t found a consistent aggression matched with a consistent efficiency yet,” said Shamet on January 11th. “I think I’ve been searching for it one way or the other. Shit, we’re 10 games in. I keep reminding myself about that. It’s not gonna be easy. Everyone thinks when you get on a good winning team, things just get easy, but in reality, it’s the complete opposite. It’s hard to win games, and it’s hard to be on a great team with high expectations. So we’re all working, we stay together, and my looks will come, and they’ll fall. I’m a knockdown 45% career shooter, so I’m not worried about this one bit.”

The law of averages eventually adhered to Shamet’s militant discipline; since January 11, he’s nearly doubled his scoring to 8.9 points per game on a much cleaner percentage from three at 37.3 percent. In the last six games, he’s at 12.3 points and 45.8 percent from deep. He’s basically been as advertised for Brooklyn, a self-assured sharpshooter, since hitting “send” on this tweet.

Oh yeah, he’s 23 years old.

Now back to Phoenix. Shamet, like the rest of his Nets brethren clad in crispy monochrome uniforms, started with a sluggish malaise during the second of the two road back-to-back games (the first being against the Sacramento Kings the night before). Just nine minutes into the first-quarter, Suns superstar Devin Booker took it right at Landry, shoving the slender Shamet out of the way to put Phoenix up 10 early.

This wasn’t the first time an opponent picked Shamet out of a lineup for a mismatch down low. In just Brooklyn’s second game of the season, a Christmas Day get-together with the rivalrous Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum feasted on the block with Shamet –– all 6’4”, 190 pounds of him –– defending.

A few weeks later, Russell Westbrook saw this fourth quarter matchup with Shamet and decided it was time to hop in the ole’ DeLorean to travel back to 2017 for an MVP-level backdown.

As a team defender, Shamet is excellent, operating as a functional “low man” and elbow “digging” specialist. Left on his own, however, his frailty comes to light; he’s a 34th-percentile isolation defender and a 48th-percentile post-up deterrent, per Synergy. It’s been an issue on occasion this season; larger guards and wings show no hesitation while facing-up against the wiry Wichita product.

Shamet’s stumbling footing steadied itself as the clock ticked on in Phoenix, and the support of a playoff-tested backbone began to stand upright. In perhaps the most crucial point of the game, Shamet and the ragtag Nets did a real-life Benchwarmers impersonation, outscoring the Suns 20-13 in the six-and-a-half fourth-quarter minutes that James Harden was on the bench. On this inverted pick-and-roll with Jeff Green, Shamet popped to the perimeter to coerce a mismatch with Dendre Ayton, and then took it to the hole against the former No. 1 overall pick.

Speaking of Harden, his oh-so-malleable star power took Brooklyn across the finish line, bombarding the Suns with a series of tremendous flip-flopped pick-and-rolls with Jeff Green, as well as a curtain-calling pull-up three to put the Nets up 1 with 30 seconds to spare.

But it was Landry Shamet who said “good night” to the city of Phoenix.

Do you remember that first-quarter possession in which Booker took it to the rack against Shamet? Well, Phoenix went back to that, to what had previously been a fruitful form of attack. For the potential game-winning out of bounds set, the Suns inbounded the ball to Booker, guarded by Jeff Green, to initiate the play. Booker immediately streaked off an angled Chris Paul ball-screen to finagle the match-up with Shamet in the post.

Booker acted quickly, making his move with a series of shoulder checks into Shamet’s chest. But like Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class, Shamet absorbed those body blows and delivered a counter of his own. It was Newton’s Third-Law personified on a basketball floor; for every Booker action, there was a Shamet reaction. Landry held his ground with his hands raised high to force the All-Star guard into an uncharacteristically unbalanced shot to clinch the win for Brooklyn.

The memes and goofs were, shoot, just miraculous in the virtual post-game celebrations.

A storybook ending to a fitting tale. Shamet, targeted early by the opposition’s best scorer, survived, no, conquered his spiteful foe to put the Nets on top. His performance against Phoenix was a character arc representative of his entire chapter in Brooklyn; he started slow, getting shoved and prodded around early. But then, thanks to that resolute belief in the work that had gotten him here in the first place, Shamet persevered and made the biggest defensive play of the game against the opponent who had haunted him the most.

All it took was two possessions to tell his whole story.