Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Shakur Juiston doesn’t view himself as a flashy player. Ask the UNLV junior forward about his 14.2 points per game, and he’ll tell you he’s just in the right place at the right time. Ask him about his 11.2 rebounds, eighth in the nation, and he’ll say that’s just him doing his job.
Ask him about his pinpoint passes to Brandon McCoy, and he’s similarly understated.
“Me passing the ball to Brandon is like waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth, washing your face,” Juiston said. “It’s like second nature.”
To be clear, that’s just Juiston being modest. There’s nothing ordinary about his passing ability, and specifically, there’s nothing routine about the chemistry he has developed with McCoy.
Through 10 games, Juiston has made it a habit to find his freshman center once or twice per game, with the passes usually leading to easy baskets.
Of McCoy’s 79 made field goals this season, 51 have been assisted. And Juiston has been the dime-dropper on 13 of those buckets, second-most on the team behind only point guard Jordan Johnson (18).
But where Johnson’s assists to McCoy make up just 23.7 percent of his assist total on the season, a whopping 46.4 of Juiston’s helpers have gone to McCoy (13 of 28).
Before Thursday’s practice, Juiston said it has always been in his nature to look for others.
“I’m pretty much a pass-first type of dude,” Juiston said. “I could care less about scoring, only if I need to score. I’m more focused on rebounding and assisting and all the other stats that don’t show up in the box score.”
That approach has worked for the no-nonsense junior college transfer, and the Rebels are building a good amount of their offense around it. In Marvin Menzies’ system, UNLV runs a number of set plays that are designed to distort the defense and allow Juiston to hit McCoy for easy layups. And Juiston’s basketball IQ makes him a threat as a playmaker even when he goes off-script.
Juiston flashed his big-to-big passing ability in UNLV’s 89-82 win over Illinois last week. On one first-half play, Juiston broke down the defense off the dribble, drew a secondary help defender away from the rim, then slipped an improvised pass to McCoy for an open dunk.
Later, in the second half, the Rebels ran a set play to take advantage of Illinois’ zone defense. Juiston’s flawless execution helped lead to another assist on a McCoy slam:
Juiston, as is his nature, gives McCoy credit for being a good target in the passing game. And that’s true — McCoy does a good job of making himself available by flashing to open spaces, he has good hands, and he finishes strong.
That makes him a perfect outlet for Juiston’s interior bullet passes.
“[We] just take what the defense gives us,” Juiston said. “If someone is overplaying me, I know that Brandon is 50-60 percent wide open. If I’m sitting there, backing someone down, and I see Brandon, a 7-foot target, I can just pass to one of his hands and he’ll go up with it. He’s a nice finisher.”
Menzies said Juiston’s polished skill set allows the Rebels to open up the play book on offense.
“He’s a guy you can draw up some plays for and get him the ball in certain areas of the floor because of his versatility,” Menzies said. “But he’s also a very unselfish player and a very high-energy guy.”
For the season, Juiston is averaging 2.9 assists per game, third on the team behind Johnson (7.6) and guard Jovan Mooring (3.7). He could stand to cut down on turnovers (1.9 per game), but so many of his passes lead to uncontested dunks that Menzies will likely trust Juiston’s judgment and encourage him to keep moving the ball when he feels he can make a play.
That’s the way Juiston prefers to operate. He wants to get his teammates involved, and when they score, he takes pride in knowing he made the right play.
And of course, when he can generate an open look for a fellow big man, that’s just paying it forward. Or passing it forward, if you will.
“Any big man I’ve played with in my career, I always make sure I feed him the ball,” Juiston said. “Big men don’t get too many touches, you know? Basketball is mostly guards and ball screens, so I take pride in helping a big man get touches and finishing.”