Shayne Whittington: ‘If I can guard and hit open shots, I’m going to be out there’

Whittington has remained in Indy to work out for most of the summer.

Whittington, 24, has spent much of the offseason in Indy to work on his game.

Shayne Whittington did not hold back when asked what it was like to have a new two-year contract, which includes a fully guaranteed first year.

“You don’t know (bleeping) nice that is,” he said, obviously relieved.

Whittington, who went undrafted last summer after breaking his leg in a workout preparing for the draft, signed with the Pacers and he came back much earlier than anticipated. He was ready for the start of camp in late September when initially, January was the timeframe he had been given.

The 6-11 power forward has remained in Indianapolis throughout much of the summer to improve his game with coaches and teammates (and some former teammates, unfortunately). He’s now on a strict diet focused on losing fat, gaining muscle, and having the endurance to play at a faster tempo, as the Pacers plan to do.

“I’m trying to be the guy that can go forever,” Whittington told me in May. “I’m trying to be like George Hill. He goes forever and doesn’t get tired.”

Like Whittington, Hill is back for next season. But there nearly as many newcomers (seven) as there are returnees (eight).

“We’re going to be running a lot,” Whittington said this week after signing his second NBA contract.

“We’re going to be putting bodies through. We’ll be alright. Regardless of what happens — (knocks on the wooden table) — there’s always injuries in the league. And with the way that we’ll probably be running and playing, people are going to get tired real quick. Training camp will tell us a lot. A lot.”

Whittington took part in the celebrity softball challenge in June.

Whittington took part in the celebrity softball challenge in June.

The Pacers have the maximum of 15 players on roster and all 15 are guaranteed through the end of the 2015-16 season. There’s a number of pieces to work with at power forward and center; seven, in fact, counting Paul George.

“I think I’ll play both,” Whittington said of playing the four and five. “Lavoy could play both. It just depends on what the situation is I think.”

During his summer work, which now has the 24-year-old looking trim, he has emphasized lateral movement. Again, to match the team’s mentality to play faster while also playing the tight defense for which they are known.

“If I can get a quicker first step laterally, there’s always room for people on a team anywhere that can do that with my size,” Whittington believes.

“Honestly, I think the one thing that really will set me apart from anybody at the four and five is if I can start guarding guards on a consistent basis. If I start doing that, then, then you never know, I’ll be at the four quite a bit. We’ll switch a lot; I can actually guard those guards; (Coach Vogel will) feel comfortable with me out there guarding people. If your President of Basketball Operations (Larry Bird) feels comfortable with you guarding guards out there, you’re going to be on the court, especially if you’re 6-11. Playing defense, rebounding the ball — that’ll get me on the court.

As Whittington began to explain the one thing he thought would set him apart, I immediately thought of his jump shot. It’s an area of his game he’s worked at and improved on over the last 16 months. He first showed it off at the Portsmouth Invitational in the spring of 2014.

In today’s game, having a big that can run the floor well and can also knock down jumpers, especially from range, is a bonus.

“I feel like that’s a shot I can hit on a consistent basis,” he said. “I shot 50 percent (2-for-4) in Summer League, I shot 50 percent when I was in the D-League from three. I felt more comfortable during those situations. I didn’t really feel comfortable shoot threes out there in the NBA because I hadn’t played that much and I was in during garbage minutes. But as soon as I get comfortable, that’s a jumper for me.

“Let me tell you: If I can guard and hit open shots, I’m going to be out there.”

[See Also: Offseason Q&A with Shayne]

Bird’s message to Whittington this offseason: It’s up to you. You can be satisfied that you made it to the league, satisfied that you wore a uniform and got some time, or you can bust your butt to be in this league a long time.

Whittington plans to stay in Indy over the next two weeks to work at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and then he’ll go to Chicago to resume workouts with Basil Evelyn, who he worked with prior to the 2014 NBA Draft.

More than 14 months out of surgery, following a strict diet and with this upcoming season guaranteed, Whittington is relieved, of course, and feeling great with two months to go before training camp.

“I’m perfect right now,” he said of his health. “I feel really good, honestly. It’s the best I’ve felt in a year and a half right before the injury.”

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