It may be hard to focus on Iman Shumpert’s basketball with his hair stealing the show, but his return to the Knicks yesterday will have a huge impact on the team. Shumpert’s return came at the perfect time and he really is the kind of player who the Knicks have lacked this season.
Shumpert scored eight points in 15 minutes in his first game back from a torn ACL and meniscus that he suffered in the playoffs last season. He hit two corner three-pointers, had a nice steal and layup and had an athletic dunk attempt that he barely missed. Shumpert looked like he had no limitations, which is a very good sign since this is his first game in nine months.
The Knicks have gotten behind early in recent games, which has been one of the main issues in their recent 5-5 stretch. Due to injuries, the Knicks have had to start the likes of Ronnie Brewer, James White and Kurt Thomas in recent games, which has definitely contributed to their slow starts. It was no coincidence that when Shumpert was taken out of the game yesterday, about five minutes into it, that the Knicks held a 16-2 lead over Detroit.
Brewer’s struggles have been a huge issue for the Knicks at the start of games. With Raymond Felton injured, the only Knicks player in their starting five that could create his own shot was Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks were almost playing four against five, as defenses didn’t have to guard Brewer at all. Brewer was not aggressive on offense whatsoever and would pass on open layups and would miss wide open three-pointers.
Shumpert is everything that the Knicks needed from Brewer… and more. Shumpert is an elite on-ball defender, which is the reason that the Knicks decided to sign Brewer. On offense, Shumpert can get to the hoop and create his own shot, which Brewer obviously can’t do.
However, the most encouraging sign against the Pistons was Shumpert hitting two wide open three-pointers, which were the shots that Brewer was getting and missing. Shumpert’s shooting was his weakness last season, as he only shot 30% from three-point land. If new Knicks shooting guru Dave Hopla can help Shumpert improve that to 35% this season, that will be huge. Shumpert will continue to get those open looks, especially when Felton comes back, and the Knicks play with two point guards on the floor more often.
Shumpert’s mere presence alone makes the Knicks so much better. As really the only very young player on the team, Shumpert brings energy and athleticism that the Knicks have lacked this season. You can just see how high the team morale was and how happy they were to have him back.
It is no secret that since the first six games of the season the Knicks have been a bad defensive team, as they now rank 16th in the NBA in defense efficiency. Part of this has been due to scheme and effort, as Mike Woodson’s constant switching defensive style has created too many mismatches. However, it also has to do with talent, particularly at the guard spot. Kidd, Felton and Pablo Prigioni are not good on-ball defenders and quick opposing guards have lived in the paint against the Knicks. Even Will Bynum killed the Knicks yesterday.
Shumpert could change a lot of that quickly; he has the versatility to guard point guards like Rajon Rondo or a big shooting guard like Joe Johnson. The Knicks have been terrible in isolation defense, but have been good in post-up defense. So if Shumpert can keep opposing guards out of the lane and force teams to beat them with post-ups the Knicks should be much improved on defense. Yesterday, this was already evident. According to Jared Zwerling, the Pistons shot 50.9% when Shumpert was off the court and only 30.8% when he was on the court.
With the return of Shumpert, and the impending return of Felton, the Knicks can finally have a near full-health roster for the first time in a long time. They can finally give Kidd less minutes and let him play shooting guard more often, as that will allow Kidd to do what he did best at the beginning of the season; swing the ball and hit spot-up three-pointers. With Felton and Shumpert getting in the lane, the ball movement should go back to the way it was at the start of the season.
Shumpert’s return gave the Knicks a spark yesterday that hopefully will continue for the remainder of the season. They just don’t have another player on their roster with his skill set.