Iman Shumpert has had a bumpy career path.
He did a lot of ball handling at Georgia Tech, where he showcased impressive athleticism but also an unpolished skill-set. The Knicks thus drafted him as a point guard project – the vision was to have this elite athlete pushing the ball in the open court (Mike D’Antoni was still the coach) and enveloping opposing point guards with his length on the other end.
For that to actually happen, however, the erratic decision making on the ball and poor shooting Shumpert displayed in college needed to be cleaned up. The 2011 lockout disrupted his first offseason as a pro, though, and Shumpert did not develop in those areas as a rookie. He ended up running point for a third of his minutes and yet bad passes accounted for 47 of his 111 turnovers. 316 of his 534 shots were taken from outside the lane, and he hit them at only a 33 percent clip. Shumpert impressed with his effort on defense, which made him a positive presence in the line-up, but was far from what was envisioned of him on offense.
Unfortunately, a torn ACL suffered in the first round playoff series opener against the Heat disrupted his second offseason as well and sidelined him for almost half of his sophomore campaign. By the time he returned, Donnie Walsh, the head of the front office that drafted him, was no longer in charge and his replacement, Glen Grunwald, had signed three veteran point guards, which shifted Shumpert to the wing full time since. He ran point on just five percent of his minutes the last couple of seasons.
Entering his fourth year, the vision of what is expected of Shumpert on offense has changed. He is now viewed as a prototypical three-D wingman. But can he be one?
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Shumpert is a very good individual defender, thanks to his combination of effort, six-foot-nine wingspan and lateral mobility. He is very active pressing ball handlers, and generated a steal in almost a fifth of the possessions he defended in isolation, according to research by Posting & Toasting’s Christian Baber. Perhaps more impressive is how often he gets a deflection. Though a leaner type (listed at 212 pounds), Shumpert has shown good lower body strength to contain dribble penetration through contact and the quickness to keep pace side-to-side. Mike Woodson had the Knicks switching on pick-and-rolls a huge amount last season but prior to that, Shumpert was good navigating screens as well.
Some argue that Shumpert gambles for steals too often, but throughout Woodson’s tenure, the Knicks played better when they were forcing a lot of turnovers on defense and shooting a lot of three-pointers off ball movement ignited by Carmelo Anthony on offense. In gambling, then, Shumpert was doing what was needed of him. Woodson also had the Knicks doubling the post, and Shumpert showcased good short range quickness when helping and recovering. According to research by Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring, he was the best player in the league double-teaming by late February.
Shumpert also leveraged his athleticism by contributing on the boards, ranking sixth in the league in defensive rebounding rate among shooting guards. New York allowed only 101.8 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup, a rate that would have ranked it a top seven defense, and haemorrhaged points at a worse rate than the league-worst Jazz when he hit the bench. The defensive tools, then, are there.
Offensively, Shumpert returned for that shortened second season as a much improved shooter, hitting not only 43.4 percent of his 53 attempts from the corners but also 38.9 percent of his 72 three-point attempts from above the break. He regressed from above the break last season, missing 70 percent of his 126 attempts, but remained deadly from the corner, hitting 39 percent of his 101 shots. Shumpert is a very good shooter with his feet set; he gets great elevation and has excellent mechanics, with the off-hand pointed up and textbook follow-through, leading to a beautiful arc in his shot. But he does not have a particularly quick release when the ball is passed to him outside of his shooting pocket, which dips his efficiency when contested. And the offense the Knicks ran last season – heavy in isolations and lacking in player movement – led to a lot of contested shots.
Shumpert’s clear role on offense was as a floor spacer, with over 40 percent of his total shots classified as catch-and-shoots and almost 70 percent of his attempts coming from outside 16-feet. He was merely average shooting off the catch, but yet he was at his most productive doing so. Other than uncontested long range shooting, Shumpert struggled badly as a scorer last season, averaging a lousy 1.02 points per shot on 484 total attempts, and he is not even average as a shooter when shooting off the bounce, hitting just 35.1 percent of his 148 pull-up attempts.[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”playerb” title=”More Player Breakdowns” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]
In a recent interview, Shumpert revealed he did not feel as comfortable elevating off one leg last season due to the lack of strength in his left one after he underwent another knee procedure in the 2013 offseason. In light of his ineffectiveness in driving the ball, perhaps it showed. Shumpert flashed some quickness dribbling from side-to-side at times, but generally struggled beating many opponents in isolation and attacking closeouts, shooting 46.4 percent on 111 attempts off drives. He is also an iffy ball handler in traffic, with lost balls and offensive fouls accounting for 31 of his 79 turnovers, and is only OK when passing out of dribble penetration. Shumpert is still an above average athlete, ranking third in offensive rebounding rate among his positional peers, but is not as explosive as in his collegiate days after back-to-back years in which he had to have his knee cut open, which has affected his ability to finish against length. He hit only 52.9 percent of his 102 attempts in the restricted area and generated only 71 free throws in 74 appearances.
Perhaps aware he can no longer rely on that high level of explosiveness he had when he entered the league, Shumpert has supposedly worked on his floater in training camp. This is good to hear, because Shumpert needs to continue to develop. This is a big year for him, if not the biggest.
The Knicks are said to not be negotiating a contract extension with him, and thus Shumpert will be a restricted free agent next summer, when the cap is expected to rise substantially. If he develops more, he can get himself paid. Already, Shumpert is a plus-defender who can contribute on offense as an open-shot shooter and rebounder, and his value should increase if he gets open more often, which would have been the case if he had been traded to the Thunder and is what the Knicks are attempting to do by installing the triangle offense. New York looks to be a more stable franchise than it did the past three years, and Derek Fisher seems to have a clearer plan for what he wants his team doing on offense than Woodson used to. Shumpert is the exact type of player who can benefit from this. The potential for a star role player is still there.