The Celtics’ decision to sign Shane Larkin last summer was a curious one. At the time of the agreement, Boston already had 15 guaranteed contracts on its books—three of which belonged to primary ball handlers—and an incumbent starter in Isaiah Thomas who was diminutive in his own right. Adding Larkin as the 16th guaranteed deal—one over the league limit—seemed odd.
But fast forward a couple of weeks and things began to make more sense. The Celtics made a blockbuster move to acquire Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers, moving on from the undersized Thomas while simultaneously opening up a roster spot for the newly-signed Larkin.
Once seen as a candidate to be cut by the ending of training camp, Larkin went on to appear in 54 games for the Celtics in 2017-18, averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
Now set to become an unrestricted free agent later this summer, the Celtics will have a decision to make on Larkin—one that will largely be contingent on what happens with their other guards. Marcus Smart will be a restricted free agent seeking a sizable pay raise, and after performing so well as a starter this past post season, it’s possible teams inquire about Terry Rozier’s availability. If one of the two were to end up in a different uniform next year, Boston could certainly consider bringing Larkin back into the fold.
The question then becomes at what cost. Larkin made a little over $1.5 million this past year and, after exceeding expectations, could be in for a raise of his own. The majority of teams around the league will be strapped for cash this offseason, including the Celtics, so clubs in need of some depth at the point guard position could see Larkin as a bargain.
While it’s unclear if Larkin could serve as a full-time backup, he thrived in his role as the third guard in Brad Stevens’ system, often coming in as a change-of-pace guy that could make plays with the ball in his hands, defend a little and knock down threes here and there.
The Celtics held opponents to just 99.0 points per 100 possessions with Larkin on the floor, per NBA.com, and though he’s not exactly a lock down defender due to his lack of size, he’s lightning quick moving his feet on the perimeter and can be best described as annoying on that side of the ball. More often than not, Larkin could be found in a ball handler’s pocket, harassing them and making the initial action at the point of attack uncomfortable for his counterparts.
Larkin picks up Goran Dragic at the logo here and rides his hip as he runs into a dribble handoff with Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk tries to free up Dragic with a bounce pass ahead of Larkin, but he’s too quick and sneaks in to steal the pass, giving the Celtics an opportunity to run in transition. Larkin made a number of plays like this throughout the course of the season. He’s pesky and makes himself a threat with quick hands and good instincts.
Larkin admittedly botches the layup following this steal, but it’s another good example of him making something out of nothing and giving the Celtics chances to score as a result.
Offensively Larkin is fine. He’s a solid playmaker and makes good decisions in the pick-and-roll, as evidenced by his near 3-to-1 career assist to turnover ratio. That said, he’s still probably not a guy that’s going to lead your offense for long stretches at a time and is better suited for the limited role Stevens employed him in.
Part of that has to do with his subpar shooting ability. Though he knocked down 36% of his threes during the regular season, the majority of his makes came on catch-and-shoot opportunities (41.4%) as opposed to pull ups (28%). And when he was run off the three-point line he was often forced into taking long twos, where he attempted 27.4% of his shots at just a 29.6% success rate.
Being able to knock down those shots off the dribble are important for Larkin to be successful since his small stature causes him to struggle getting to and finishing at the rim. Listed (generously) at 5’11”, Larkin was well below league average scoring at the basket.
Larkin will be just 26-years-old when the 2018-19 season tips off, so there is still plenty of time for him to improve these areas of his game. Unfortunately, there are just some things Larkin can’t overcome physically through no fault of his own. Either way, after spending some time overseas, Larkin proved to be an NBA-caliber player and should find himself an NBA home this summer whether that’s in Boston or elsewhere.