The Bucks begin training tomorrow for their trip to the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League. For a league that typically features rookies and free-agent hopefuls, there are more than a few recognizable names on the Bucks initial 18-player roster. In addition to focusing on second-round draft pick Nate Wolters, many eyes will be fixed on current Bucks Gustavo Ayon, Ish Smith, and John Henson. The roster also includes in-state college stars Mike Brusewitz and Junior Cadougan as well as a pair of former NBA players: Dominique Jones and Demetris Nichols.
But one name to watch over the next week is John Shurna. Why? Because the Bucks need three-point shooters — and they need a lot of them. Shurna, Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer, can shoot. While playing in France’s top pro league last season, Shurna made an incredible 50.5% of his three-point attempts.
In 2012-13, the Bucks made 601 three-pointers — a figure that put them a bit above league average. Headed into the 2013-14 offseason, the players that the Bucks had under contract accounted for just 113 of those three-pointers. Milwaukee has since added O.J. Mayo (142 three-pointers last season) and Carlos Delfino (158), but the need for floor spacing and long-distance shooting still exists. As John Schuhmann pointed out earlier today, nearly all of the NBA’s best offenses feature either three-point accuracy, a high volume of three-pointers attempted, or both. While no one aspect of basketball is a surefire way to winning, whether it be rebounding or pick-and-roll defense, there is a distinct correlation between three-pointers and good NBA offense in the 2013 iteration of the game.
Before the 2012 NBA Draft, Shurna worked out for about a dozen teams before going undrafted. In his workout with the Bucks, he hit an impressive 36 of 40 three-point attempts in a shooting drill. “That was my best shooting performance throughout the workouts,” Shurna said via telephone, “but I’d like to think that I performed well in the other ones as well.”
Despite not being drafted, Shurna caught on with the Atlanta Hawks for the 2012 Summer League, so even before his first practice tomorrow, he is already familiar with Bucks coaches Larry Drew, Bob Bender, and Nick Van Exel.
It was a great experience. I definitely learned a lot, especially making the transition from the collegiate level to the professional level. When you go from one level to the next, there are always some changes along the way. I was able to learn a lot and find things I need to improve on and also learn from a lot of great coaches. The assistant coaches were working with us as far as Summer League goes, but (Coach Drew) was there watching and giving us his input from time to time.
In five Summer League games with Atlanta, the 6’9″ forward averaged 3.8 points per game in 15.8 minutes of game action while shooting 41.7% on threes.
Shurna caught on with New York prior to the 2012 preseason on a partially guaranteed contract before getting cut in the Knicks’ final roster adjustment prior to the regular season. In a tough battle, he lost out to a player who went from obscurity to commodity in a heartbeat. “Cope (Chris Copeland) is a great story and a great guy,” Shurna said, “and as you can see, he’s a heck of a basketball player. I’m really glad to see that he did so well this past season.” Copeland went on to finish seventh in the Rookie of the Year balloting before signing a two-year, $6 million dollar deal with the Pacers this offseason.
In New York, Shurna also had the opportunity to work with Steve Novak, a player to whom many compare him.
I was fortunate to work with Steve because he’s such a great basketball player and a better person. He looked out for me a little bit while I was there. It took him a little while to really find his role in the NBA and he’s another guy that shows that hard work can pay off.
After a call from his agent and a flight over the Atlantic Ocean the very next day, Shurna played a season in France with Strasbourg IG in the Pro A League (Ligue Nationale de Basket Pro A). He averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 20.4 minutes of action per game while making more than half of his three-point attempts. And Strasbourg — featuring former NBA first-round pick Alexis Ajinca — made it to the Pro A Finals before falling 3-1 to Nanterre in a best-of-five format.
The Pro A League uses the FIBA three-point line of 22’2″ (6.75 m). The distance sits about midway between the shorter NCAA distance of 20’9″ and the longer NBA distance of 23’9″.
Shurna relied on teammates to overcome the language barrier in France. “I had a lot of veteran teammates on that team, guys who spoke English, guys who had seen just about everything, so they really helped me with the entire transition. I was incredibly grateful.”
He also played better when given more minutes. In the six games that he played 24 or more minutes, he averaged a healthy 15.0 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Since he has returned stateside, Shurna has gone through free agent workouts with the Rockets and Magic. If he gets a chance at extended playing time with the Bucks — and with today’s trade of Luc Mbah a Moute, there’s one less potential roadblock on the roster at small forward — he just might shoot his way into a preseason invite.
If Shurna doesn’t do it this year, he’ll just work toward taking another shot at it.