Give the New York Knicks this: they’ve looked much better in 2014. They won a pretty brilliant game in San Antonio to kick the new year off, and last night, although they lost in pitiful fashion, they played the Houston Rockets well. If the Knicks keep this up, they’ll win more games.
Part of their improvement has come from the resurgence of third-year guard Iman Shumpert. Shumpert suffered a miserable December, in which he averaged 5.1 points per game on 31% shooting, 28% from downtown, with 5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. In January, it’s been a complete reversal.
In two games this month, Shumpert has been the Knicks’ best player, even despite solid performances from Carmelo Anthony. In 2014, Shumpert is averaging 26.5 points per game on 70.4% shooting, 85.7% from beyond the arc, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals per game. Of course, two games makes those numbers look awfully gaudy, but considering his generally small role in the offense, Shumpert has been the picture of efficiency through those two games.
In the win in San Antonio, Shumpert came up with a three-pointer with under a minute remaining to put the Knicks up three. When the Spurs tied it, on the following Knicks possession, he sky’d to the rim to tap in Carmelo Anthony’s missed jumper and gave the Knicks the lead for good. In last night’s heartbreaking loss to Houston, it was, once again, Shumpert that kept them in the game. Despite a quiet fourth quarter, Shumpert nailed a three-pointer with the Knicks down five points late in the game. The Knicks tied it on Tyson Chandler’s free throws. Down two on the final possession, Shumpert got a good luck from the top of the key, but missed the jumper.
Still, Shumpert’s importance to the team has been well documented. In October, we mentioned Shumpert is one of the players most responsible for team success; in December, we discussed how the Knicks need more from Shump.
The team’s recent success isn’t a coincidence; Shumpert has been crucial to the Knicks all along. Despite his near season-long struggles, Shumpert is one of two players on the Knicks with a positive net-rating. With Shumpert on the court, the Knicks have a 103.9 offensive rating and a 102.9 defensive rating. As a whole, the Knicks as a team have a 101.9 offensive rating and a 106.2 defensive rating — the numbers clearly improve when Shumpert plays.
Despite the tough loss in Houston, the Knicks can still salvage this trip with a win in Dallas on Sunday. If the team keeps playing the way they have been in 2014, more wins are on the horizon. Iman Shumpert is a crucial part of that.