Iman Shumpert missed the first two months of the season while he worked his way back from the torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs the spring before. Upon his initial return, Shumpert looked rusty and a little hesitant, understandably, after missing real game-action for the better part of a year. However, as the season continued on, so did Shump. He never quite found consistency in his offense (something that’s been a trait of his through his whole career), but in general, his rebounding improved, his energy level boosted, and on good nights, he acted as a crucial floor-spreader for the Knicks, canning catch-and-shoot threes, and acting as a threat in the open floor. By the time playoffs came around, Shumpert once again looked like the indispensable part of the rotation that Knicks fans had come to expect from him. He defended with vigor, shot the ball efficiently, and his all-around effort was not to be replaced. Though it ended in a Knicks defeat, his highlight performance came in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers where he simply went off in the second half, nearly catapulting the Knicks to victory with a series of net-splashing threes.
What We Know
Competitiveness is a tough thing to quantify and judge, but by the old eye-test, Shumpert looks like the most competitive player on the roster. He’s a visual joy to watch on the floor as he chases guards, hounds opponents, barking after every defensive stop, jawing after every offensive accomplishment. This is all to say that rarely can Shumpert ever be pin-pointed as the player that didn’t try hard enough. His energy level and competitiveness is almost a given every night, and it’s comforting to have that type of player on the roster.
For all of his competitiveness, though, his production comes and goes, particularly on offense. He shot the three-pointer at a highly improved rate last season, and there’s no reason for that to drop off this year, as we know he’s worked hard on becoming a better shooter. However, there are nights when his offensive game seems to disappear, and no matter the looks, the form, the rhythm, Shumpert can’t get it to drop. On those nights, the Knicks will need Shumpert to continue to harass his man on defense, which — despite Shumpert’s inconsistencies — is his most reliable trait.
What We’ll Need
Through two preseason games, Shumpert has given fans a very good glimpse at what the Knicks will need. In the first game against the Boston Celtics, Shump was the best offensive player on the floor, going 7-7 from the field, 3-3 from downtown, hitting shots on catch-and-shoots, his own creation, and off cuts to the paint. In the second game against the Toronto Raptors, Shumpert only shot 4-11, but did everything else in his power to keep the Knicks going: 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and a borderline masterful control of the pace of the game. Sustaining the effort he displayed Friday in Toronto will be nearly impossible over an 82-game season. But, perhaps the most intriguing part of Shumpert’s game is that he has the tools to be an all-around player. He still scrambled all over the court on defense, he was in the air for a rebound on every missed shot, and when given the chance, he pushed the pace with reckless abandon, often setting the Knicks up for good offensive possessions. The Knicks need Shumpert to take a step forward this year, and through early preseason, he looks ready to do so.
What We Can Expect
Because of the up-and-down start to Shump’s career, it’s tough to gauge exactly where Shumpert’s ceiling stops. However, there’s no denying that he has some game-changing potential, and the Knicks will need that ability as often as possible. As mentioned, early in preseason, Shumpert has looked like the Knicks’ most impactful player, and whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, a guy like that will get lots of minutes. The Knicks will need Shumpert to capitalize on those minutes and be as effective on all ends as possible.
Of course, laying so much weight on a guy facing his first full-length season is a bit burdensome. We know that Shumpert will falter at times (as every player does), and we know that he’s still going to need some time to find his bearings on this team. But, from the quotes and play we’ve seen out of training camp and preseason, Shumpert looks ready to take that next step, and it seems like we can count on him doing so. He’s not the Knicks’ primary offensive option and never will be, but there’s an open slot for him to play second or third fiddle on that end of the floor. On defense, his role will be tightening up the Knicks’ perimeter holes and setting an aggressive tone. Shumpert isn’t the most premiere name on the roster, nor is he the most well-known, but it’s tough to come across another player on the team that could be so responsible for the team’s overall sucess.
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