In some ways, this coming season is a make-or-break year for the New York Knicks. Last year’s team finished their season in disappointing fashion, but for the most part, they established themselves as Eastern Conference contenders, winning 54 games, securing second place in the East, first in the Atlantic Division. However, between concluding contracts and aging players, the Knicks’ core as it currently stands may not remain in tact for much longer. This year, the Knicks are poised to be good, but in an improved conference. They’ve made their team deeper, younger, and arguably better. But if the Knicks truly wish to contend, they’ll need big years from every player, but in some cases, certain players are particularly important to the team’s success.
Enter Iman Shumpert.
Shumpert represents one of the Knicks’ younger, most promising two-way players on the roster. At times he’s shown All-Star potential, capable of leading the offense while defending the opponents’ best player. It’s been a rocky road in Shumpert’s first two years in the NBA, and he still has room to grow. The Knicks will need him to make that next step (or steps) this year.
Shumpert’s streaky-ness can be attributed to a turbulent start to his career. The NBA lockout denied him a rookie Summer League, a proper training camp, and a full season to adjust to the NBA. In his first few games with the Knicks in 2011, he had some knee issues that forced him to miss games early, and clearly had an impact on him early in his rookie season. Of course, later, in the first game of the playoffs, just as he seemed to be hitting his stride, he tore his ACL. The road to recovery was a long one, and Shumpert didn’t return to the floor until January last season. Even then, a combination of rust and mistrust in his rehabilitated knee (he probably came back a bit too early) seemed to plague him to start the season.
Shumpert’s effectiveness in the regular season waned a little bit. In the second half of the season, his baseline states — points, rebounds, and assists — improved from March to April, but his shooting percentages went down. Just when Shumpert would reel off a couple of games where he looked to be in a solid rhythm, he would struggle the next game and seemingly lose that rhythm.
However, these are things to be expected from a second-year guard, on the mend, coming into the season without participating in training camp. The lasting memory Knicks fans should have of Shumpert from last season should be the playoffs, where he consistently shone as one of the team’s best players.
In 12 playoff games, Shumpert finished third on the Knicks in net rating, and second of players getting consistent minutes (Chris Copeland was second in net rating, and he didn’t receive regular playing time). He improved his scoring from 6 points to 9 points per game, while shooting a blistering 43% from downtown. He also contributed on the defensive end, snagging 6 rebounds per game and grabbing 1.3 steals per game. In the Indiana Pacers series, while much of the Knicks’ roster looked flabbergasted, Shumpert continually competed, defending Paul George with vigor, and in the final Game 6, nearly single-handedly vaulting the Knicks back into the game with a flurry of threes.
This season, Shumpert should be a bigger contributor on offense. He doesn’t need to be someone the Knicks throw the ball to and let go to work one-on-one — instead, he should continue his high-percentage shooting from beyond the arc while improving his ability to move without the ball. With such a rocky start to his career, Shumpert shouldn’t be trying to add too much to his game, but rather learning to play within himself. Shumpert has the ability to handle the ball in small doses, and he can rebound very well for a guard while defending at an elite level.
This Knicks team has several key players who are so far into their careers that adding much to their games is unlikely; Carmelo Anthony even backed up the notion himself on Media Day. However, Shumpert is one of the rare players on the Knicks who can still evolve and grow into something bigger. The Knicks will need that evolution to occur this season, because an improved Shumpert means an improved Knicks squad.
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