It was a slow burn for Jock Landale at St Mary's College. But when all was said and done, he had accomplished one hell of a college career with the Gaels. The 211cm, 116 kg big man, spent four seasons at what has become an Australian basketball haven, just half an hour east of San Francisco, California.
Landale averaged just a fraction under 11 minutes per contest in his first two college seasons, appearing in 56 games with just one start. From an outsider's perspective, Landale's breakout junior season --in which he averaged 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds-- looked like it came out of nowhere. But his coaches and teammates knew it came from an offseason commitment to shedding unwanted weight, a promise that resulted in a slimmer, more aerobically capable Landale.
While speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle, coach Randy Bennett explained the transformation that resulted from that hard work.
“He can play more possessions without fatigue being a factor,” Bennett said. “Where I see it the most is defensively; he’s doing a better job of keeping guys in front of him.
“That’s the reason we told him he needed to do this, so he could guard guys for longer periods of time. The byproduct is he’s also getting better offensively.”
Landale unquestionably got better as an all-around basketball player, and at the end of a sparkling senior season in 2017/18, was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and a Naismith award semi-finalist. It was an incredible turnaround that leaves Landale as arguably the most decorated Aussie Gael of all time, next to household names like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
Jock Landale's journey to the pro circuit returns him to that familiar underdog status, one that sees him scrapping from the bottom of the pack in an attempt to reach the lofty status of his fellow Australian St Mary's alums.
On missing out in the draft before joining Atlanta
Heading into the draft, Landale was projected as an outside chance to be picked late in the second round. Despite his dominant final college season, question marks remained on his ability to translate his form to the highest level. Landale isn't what you'd describe as an athletic beast. He is however, a crafty scorer in the paint, with a willingness to extend his range out to the perimeter, a requirement that fits the modern day requirements of big men in the NBA.
Landale, whom some viewed as Australia's great hope in the 2018 NBA draft, was unfortunately passed over. Thus did he join the mass of undrafted players, all hoping to latch on to a training camp deal with an NBA franchise.
The first step in that journey? Summer League, a series of tournaments that culminated in all 30 NBA teams convening in Las Vegas. Coaches, scouts and players watched with eagle eyes, in an attempt to scour the remaining talent pool for a hidden gem. Fortunately, the Atlanta Hawks came knocking. In speaking with The Pick and Roll at Vegas, Landale explained how the opportunity came to fruition, following the disappointment of the draft.
"It worked out really well [with Atlanta]. We always knew they were interested, we were just waiting to see if anything eventuated as a draft pick," Landale said. "My agent hit me up after the draft and asked if Atlanta worked for me, and I said,'Let’s do it.'"
Truth be told, joining the Hawks has worked out well for Landale, who started in all but one of their Summer League contests.
On his Summer League returns
Summer League has been a learning experience for Landale, as he had to adjust to various learning curves. It wasn't only the increase in speed and athleticism among his opponents, but the ability to work with the limited opportunities he had.
Playing opportunity has not been an issue for Landale. It's rather, the challenge of adjusting to a much more limited role, one that results in less touches and chances to affect the box score. With the Hawks, Landale's tasks on the floor consisted mostly of crashing the glass and influencing the contest in a low-usage fashion, as future young stars John Collins and Trae Young played the lead hand.
Finishing the Vegas portion of Summer League shooting 8-for-21 from the field, Landale quickly found that scoring avenues tighten up against improved opposition. For reference, that's an average of 4.2 field goal attempts per game - last season with St Mary's he averaged 13.1.
Landale went on to explain some of the difficulties he had offensively in Summer League.
"You have to find crafty ways to score. That’s been my biggest problem, finishing around the basket and converting at the rate that I usually do," Landale revealed. "I’m just trying to figure out how I can be effective and efficient. Once I get back to my 60% I’ll be pretty happy with myself, so I’ve just got keep finding ways to adjust to that."
In a Sports Illustrated piece from March, Landale said, “Just put me down on the block and let me go to work. I’m good with that.”
That certainly was the main component of the St Mary's offense that Landale anchored for the last two seasons. In the NBA, he will not be afforded such opportunities. The days of throwing the ball into the big man in the paint are fast evaporating. Additionally, Landale found the going tough in Vegas, no longer able to get his shot up with the apparent ease he had in college.
On top of his paint offense, one area Landale knows he needs to develop is in, is perimeter shooting. Of his 470 field goal attempts in 2017-18 with St Mary's, only ten of those came from beyond the arc. In Vegas, seven of Landale's 21 field goal attempts were from 3-point land.
He only knocked down one of those seven attempts, but showing a commitment to that facet of his game should come as no surprise, with big men in the NBA consistently stretching their range to fit in with modern basketball trends. No longer the focal point of his teams offense, Landale already displayed awareness of what he will need to become to take the next step.
On connecting with Trae Young
Trae Young is a marquee name among the recent draft class. A controversial draft night trade saw the Hawks acquire Young from Dallas in a prearranged deal, sending European prodigy Luka Doncic to Dallas. Young is in some circles marked as the next Steph Curry. His unwavering confidence in his outside shot has enabled him to launch from distances that most others wouldn't dare. Part of the process for Landale has been forming a connection with Young, and gaining the trust of his point guard.
"He’s starting to trust me a little bit and I’m starting to figure out where he likes to put the ball," Landale shared on his connection with Young. "I missed two of his lobs in the first games of the Utah tournament, so I think he had to learn to trust me a little bit again."
Though Young needs only a fraction of space to let fly, the Hawks ran a steady diet of pick and roll action with Landale setting countless physical screens for his point guard. The trust that Landale spoke of became more evident as the week went on.
This Landale basket is a perfect illustration of on building that connection with his point guard.
The defence's decision to not leave Young, created momentary confusion on the floor. One roll to the basket, and Landale is rewarded with an easy two points. Unlike his college career, where he was the major offensive threat, he will now rely on taking what is given to him, and not wasting golden opportunities like the one above.
Interestingly enough, when speaking with The Pick and Roll at a Spalding event in Melbourne earlier this week, Dellavedova --a point guard himself-- explained the importance of forming a connection with Young in Vegas.
"When [Atlanta] got Trae Young, I [told Jock to] work on a two-man game with him," Dellavedova revealed. "Find out what he likes, because if you make it easier on him and help him play, that makes you more valuable. So just try and find your role."
On his relationship with Matthew Dellavedova
From a basketball perspective, Landale's ties to Matthew Dellavedova are pretty easy to connect. Both players are Australian, and played out successful college careers at St Mary's.
It comes back to the culture of Australian mateship and support, but the Milwaukee Bucks guard has taken a far greater role in the development and care of Landale, the next Aussie big looking to make it in the US.
Chapters are still waiting to be written in Landale's basketball story. His beginnings so far, look like he will be following a path similar to that of Dellavedova, who is now a five-year NBA veteran. After also slipping though the 2013 NBA draft without hearing his name called, Dellavedova joined the Cleveland Summer League roster and eventually earned himself a contract in September that year.
When asked about the influence Dellavedova has had on his career so far, and the confidence he gains from witnessing Delly's success on that same journey, the youthful big man was effusive in his praise.
"[Dellavedova] has been big time for me. All throughout the process, he’s been hitting me up asking me how I am and where my head's at and stuff like that," Landale explained. "We haven’t really been in contact too much through this tournament, but he paved the way and showed me how to deal with the mentality of not getting whole lot of attention like everyone else."
That last point is poignant, when you remind yourself that Landale is no longer 'the guy' on this Summer League squad. From a mental standpoint, it would be an extremely challenging adjustment to make. Delly's advice rings loudly in Landale's mind, as he works his way through his first taste of an NBA system.
"You’re just trying to lock in and do your job every night because that’s what Delly does," Landale said. "He lets things come to him, he plays really, really hard and is a team player, which is the same path that I’m going to have to take to have success as well."
Dellavedova is currently on a well-deserved break, after taking part in the now infamous Boomers World Cup qualifiers earlier this month. When interviewed in Melbourne, he shared some of the advice he passed on to Landale in recent times.
"It doesn’t really matter what happens on draft night, it matters what you do in the Summer League," Dellavedova commented. "So make sure you are not just preparing for the workouts, but you’re preparing to play pure basketball at Summer League, and just try to find a role that helps the team win.
"[Landale] had an unbelievable career at St Mary’s, obviously being the main focus of the offense, but in the NBA it’s going to be different. So work on your screen-setting, make sure you can defend the pick and rolls, which is such a big part of the NBA today."
Sound advice, from a player that knows first hand what it takes to make it to the NBA after draft disappointment.
On Landale's basketball future
When speaking with Jock, it quickly became obvious that he had nothing but determination. Landale's words clearly illuminated his desire to reach the NBA, and he showed himself to have a solid handle on the process.
With so much at stake through the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, coping with the pressures of an uncertain future are part and parcel of the daily grind for Landale right now.
"Nights like last night are the perfect opportunity to try and get as fresh as you can," Landale responded, when asked about being removed from the starting lineup.
"[Freshening up is] what I tried to do. I played probably my best eight minutes of the tournament in that game. I approach every game with the mindset that I have a lot to gain and not really much to lose."
Landale's perspective on looking at what he gains, over what he stands to lose, with a potential NBA deal on the line, is refreshing. He's focused on making it work right now, and how he could stand to benefit from this tournament long term, regardless of what happens after. Rather than focusing on what isn't yet his, he chose to focus on the now.
"No one has approached me thus far about a contract or anything like that, so I have literally nothing to lose. If anything I’m just trying to show what I can do, and that I can play the right way as a team player by rebounding and defending mainly."
Truth be told, he doesn't know where he will end up. With the Hawks’ Summer League campaign now complete, the waiting game to hear about receiving a camp deal with an NBA franchise begins.
After our interview wrapped up, I asked Landale whether he caught wind of the Geelong Advertiser's back page spread, one that was dedicated to him on draft day. Being a Geelong boy myself, I was telling him, I was quite sure I had never seen basketball being covered like that on the back page.
"Yeah, I saw it. It was cool," he said with a smile, and half-chuckled. "It would have been even better if I got drafted."
You have to agree, that's a pretty good response from a guy that knows the hard work is only just beginning. Again.