CHICAGO -- You tend to believe Shane Larkin when he says the NBA's current crop of hyper-talented point guards doesn't intimidate him. From the moment Larkin made basketball his full-time focus, he's been peppered with doubts.
He's aware he's undersized -- measuring at 5'11, Larkin is the shortest player at the draft combine who will garner consideration in the first round. He's aware that some teams question his playmaking skills after he averaged under five assists per game as a sophomore at Miami. And he's aware that point guard is the most stacked position in the NBA.
As Larkin starts to name the league's best point guards, he says their names with a certain reverence. He doesn't stop at Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker, he keeps going. Jrue Holiday, John Wall, Stephen Curry, the list goes on. Larkin's job at the next level will not be an easy one. He'll be tasked with matching wits against some of the league's most skilled and athletic players, many a few inches taller than he, from the moment he steps onto a pro court. Just don't tell Shane Larkin that his height will work against him.
"Everybody says being a small point guard in the NBA, you're at a disadvantage," said Larkin at last week's draft combine in Chicago. "If you look at guys like Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, there are a lot of guys that are undersized and they're still killing it. They just have to find ways to use their size to their advantage. Bigger guys have just as tough a time guarding smaller guys, just like smaller guys have a tough time guarding bigger guys. I just have to find ways to use my height to my advantage."
Imagine trying to defend Kyrie Irving as he unleashes a killer crossover on you. Picture the task of corralling Derrick Rose as he hits the open court with an extra gear. Consider how blowing by a college defender is nothing like trying to get past the alien limbs of Rajon Rondo.
Shane Larkin is a brave man. If he can turn himself into a solid starting point guard in the NBA like he believes he can, he'll silence plenty of seemingly logical doubts.
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"Just getting up in somebody on the defensive end," said Larkin when asked how, exactly, he plans on using his short stature to his advantage in the NBA. "If you're lower than somebody on the defensive end you can really get in them, make it hard for them to dribble the ball and get up the court.
"Just being a pest on defense, that's one of the things I really have to do at the next level. And just being able to be in the lane, get by any defender. I have to get in the lane to make plays. Even if it's not shooting a floater or going on the way to make a layup, I need to be able to kick and make the right decision for my team."
Talk to Larkin for a few minutes and it's clear he understands the game. Not every player at the draft combine is quick to bring up concepts like leverage and angles, but Larkin will. He also has another factor working to his advantage: when it comes to pure athleticism, few players, if any, can match up with him.
NBA history is chock-full of impressive leapers who couldn't really play, but explosiveness is undoubtedly a key component for an NBA point guard. Larkin proved he's as explosive as they come by posting a 44-inch vertical leap at the combine, the second highest mark in combine history. He also finished with the fastest sprint time and posted impressive numbers in the lane agility test.
Basketball success isn't measured on a stopwatch, but there's no denying the NBA is the world's greatest collection of athletes. Part of that is because nowhere else will you find human so tall who can move so fluidly.
Shane Larkin will never get any taller, but he's proven to have elite athleticism. No one is taking that away from him, either.
Larkin's breakthrough moment in a breakout sophomore season happened on January 23. That's when the Hurricanes welcomed No. 1 ranked Duke to Coral Gables and Larkin announced himself to the college basketball world. Miami blitzed Duke 42-19 in the first half thanks to a collection of superior athletes, a group headed by Larkin. Larkin would finish the night with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 8-of-14 shooting as Miami scored a 27-point upset victory. More telling is what his defense did to opposing point guard and fellow NBA hopeful Seth Curry. Curry's night ended with zero points on 0-of-10 shooting.
Larkin says he's always had a knack for playing up to the competition, a trait that should serve him well as a pro. In his second meeting against the Blue Devils in March, Larkin posted 25 points and four assists on 8-of-16 shooting in a three-point loss at Cameron. It helped set the table for the Sweet 16 run he keyed. Larkin scored 17 against Illinois in the Round of 32, a performance that included three backbreaking three-pointers in a game he would play all 40 minutes.
There are knocks on Larkin aside from his size, though. Some worry that he isn't the natural playmaker some of the other point guards in this class are. Trey Burke averaged more than two assists per night more than Larkin; Syracuse's Michael-Carter Williams nearly averaged three assists more per night. Even Ty Lawson, the player Larkin is most often compared to, averaged 5.6 assists per game his last year at North Carolina, a full assist higher than what Larkin averaged.
Instead, Larkin will have to prove that he can shoot the ball from distance as his playmaking skills develop. Fortunately for Larkin, this is where he truly shines. He shot 48 percent from the floor this year, an impressive number for a diminutive guard, and shot over 40 percent from three-point range on 4.7 attempts per game.
There's another thing Larkin is confident he can bring to an NBA team from day one: professionalism.
"Leadership and professional background just because my dad played baseball," said Larkin, son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin. "I know what it takes to be a professional I know about all the sacrifices you have to make, just watching him make all of those sacrifices, not being able to be with your family. I know how to be a professional just by watching him"
Larkin is prepared to take the next step in his career. Don't tell him he can't do it.