And yes, I say that, notwithstanding the 94-83 beating the Knicks took at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night. The Knicks lost Carmelo Anthony to a sprained ankle, were outworked by the well-rested Grizzlies, and obviously had dead legs—converting on only 31 of their 83 field goal attempts.
The loss ended their 4-game win streak, and the Knicks might be looking at back-to-back losses when they visit Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
But let’s focus on the bigger picture.
No doubt, this is Anthony’s team, even if Amar’e Stoudemire is introduced last in home games at Madison Square Garden. And yes, although the chemistry between Stat-e-Melo is still developing, the Knicks need both to score to win. That’s evidenced by their 4-1 record when each of them score 20 or more points in the same game.
Obviously, the Knicks desperately needed what Tyson Chandler provides—a rim protecting center that is a beast on the glass and a dangerous pick and roll threat.
But without someone who has the ability to get into the paint at will and cause defensive breakdowns, the Knicks offense will always be a 48-minute spectator event.
And without a player to lock up the opposing team’s best perimeter player, they were doomed to give up more points than ‘Melo and Amar’e could ever score.
Without those pieces, the Knicks would have been a disappointing laughingstock, because if there’s one thing the Dallas Mavericks taught us is that—although a Big 3 is great—a very large 5 is better; basketball is a team sport and there is strength in numbers.
Now, with Shumpert and what he provides, the Knicks will—eventually—be the ones doing all the laughing. He fills needs and will make worthy contributions over the long haul. He’s raw, he needs work, and he needs to be taught to play either point guard or shooting guard.
But he has the potential to be special. And anyone that tries to convince you otherwise isn’t paying attention.
At this point, we don’t know if he has the ability to make plays and get his teammates dunks when the game is on the line, because the Knicks continue to play Iso-Melo in the final 6 minutes of every close game.
We also don’t know if he has the physical strength or wherewithal to withstand the rigors of an 82—or 66—game season.
And we definitely aren’t sure as to whether or not his jumper and shot selection will get to where it needs to be to catapult him into the next tier. That was all too apparent when Shumpert shot a shabby 5-for-20 in Thursday’s loss in Memphis.
He doesn’t have the first step of Stephon Marbury, the vision of Chris Paul, or the ability to finish like Derrick Rose. Those guys had superpowers that we saw from Day 1.
But of all the things that we don’t know and of all the things that are yet to be discovered, it’s what we DO know that has Knicks fans salivating and has made Shumpert the talk of the town after being moved into the starting lineup four games ago.
Quite frankly, as a rookie, Shumpert is already regarded by his teammates and coaching staff as one of the hardest workers on the team—on both ends of the floor. On Wednesday, after the Knicks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in New York by a score of 85-79, even Doug Collins and Elton Brand were talking about him.
Anthony went as far as to say that Shumpert was the difference maker for the Knicks during their four-game win streak. “What Iman is doing, what he’s bringing to the game right now, believe it or not, we’re feeding off of him,” said Anthony.
And it’s difficult to argue with that when you consider that the Knicks—after losing last night—have won five out of seven games when Shumpert has played greater than 20 minutes. They’re also 3-1 with Shumpert as the starter at point guard.
Their team defense has also been appreciably better, as they’ve held their past four opponents under 90 points.
That’s no coincidence. Shumpert is a difference maker.
Athletically, he is a freak of nature. Aside from the 42-inch vertical leap, he is lightning quick and has the ability to split double teams and get into the paint almost whenever he wants. If you need proof, re-watch the Knicks victory over the detroit Pistons back on January 7th. Although Shumpert had only 3 assists, his ability to get into the paint led to twice as many “hockey assists,” plenty of open jumpers, and a few uncontested dunks for some of his teammates. His minutes were limited by foul trouble, but when he was on the floor, he made a difference. Here, his contributions certainly played a role in the Knicks largest margin of victory of the young season as they won the game, 103-80.
In stretches, Shumpert has shown the ability to orchestrate the Knicks offense, run the pick and roll, and move diagonally into the paint while keeping his head up. Those are skills Toney Douglas seemingly lacks. This was clear when Shump tallied 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in the Knicks 91-87 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats back on January 9th.
Defensively, Shumpert is averaging a ridiculous 2.4 steals per game and plays excellent man-to-man defense. He has the size at 6’5” to guard either guard position and does so very well.
When you look at his admittedly small body of work but consider what most have largely ignored about Shumpert—that he didn’t have a summer league or training camp to get ready for NBA basketball—it’ll become obvious: the kid warrants keeping an eye on. And for Knicks fans, you are well within your right to wonder what the ceiling is for him. Just keep things in perspective: Shumpert will have great games and he will have terrible games. He’s a rookie that hasn’t had a summer league, training camp, or preseason, and he’s the starting point guard for a team that’s under tremendous pressure to attain a top four seed in the East. Thus far, he’s handled it well. But it will probably be a full year from now until we really know what he’s made of.
Even still, the excitement over him and the love that Madison Square Garden has for him is well deserved.
How he is coached and developed will make all the difference. His 12 shots per game average needs to drop; he has simply been too aggressive in looking for his own. And it’s somewhat befuddling since he is a very poor shooter off the dribble and—at best—a mediocre spot shooter.
He also needs to drive the ball more consistently and get to the line. Thus far this season, he’s shot 27 3-pointers and taken only 12 free throws. That’s unacceptable.
That said, his obvious flaws should be easily correctable and—with the right coaching—he can become a more complete player. You can’t teach what he has and you can teach what he doesn’t. If he’s willing to work and listen, his coaches can turn him into something special.
Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose both entered the league as athletic shoot first point gurds that needed to learn how to be pro playmkers. Now, four years later, as both have become complete players, it seems somewhat ridiculous to suggest that Shumpert can find himself in the same category as either. He lacks Rose’s first step and ability to finish in the paint, and he lacks Westbrook’s acceleration, pull up ability, and body control.
At least, that’s what I think…
And that’s the point.
It’s far too early to know how good Shumpert is or how good he can be. The sample size is too small. In six games, a rookie can prove that he’s not terrible, but he can’t necessarily prove where his ceiling is.
That’s where we are with Shumpert. Nobody knew how good Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook would be when they were drafted, and Danny Ainge literally told Kevin McHale—in the Kevin Garnett trade— that he could choose between Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo.
(Obviously, Ainge had no clue how good Rondo was).
With Shump, we simply don’t know.
The unknown, though, can be just as exciting as a proven fact.
And at this point, for Shumpert, everything’s in play. With the right system and proper coaching, the sky’s the limit.