Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Asian America's Team: Iman Shumpert

Athletic with strong defensive abilities, but lacks shooting touch and basketball IQ. These were the attributes used to describe Iman Shumpert as he prepared for the 2011 NBA draft. My reaction to the Knicks drafting Iman Shumpert was the same as when they drafted Landry Fields the year before -- total shock and confusion. Iman's name had never come up in any of the articles I read of potential players that would be available at the 17th pick. In addition, the man every sport analyst seemed to want the Knicks to draft was actually still available. Many fans and experts felt the Knicks should have taken Chris Singleton, who would have filled the need for a guy who could defend the 3 or 4 spot. At the time, it was a fair assessment with the expectation that Toney Douglas would continue to develop and Chauncey Billups still on the roster.

The end result was that Donnie Walsh took another risk with Iman Shumpert, and once again Knicks fans filled Radio City Music Hall with a chorus of boos. Shortly after the selection, ESPN interviewed a stunned Spike Lee who looked like he was about to break into tears of frustration. All Spike could do was trust in the Knicks management that had failed him over and over in the past. The Knicks fan base had the dream of moving up and snatching Jimmer Fredette or Klay Thompson. Even Carmelo put in his input and desire to draft his friend Josh Selby who also grew up in the Baltimore area. Nevertheless Donnie Walsh made the call and went with his gut, and for a guy who had already announced his resignation, he had nothing to lose... even if every major NBA draft website had Iman projected in the second round.

Too many times in the NBA management selects draft picks with hidden upside in order to impress others. An example of this would be Isaiah Thomas, who drafted Renaldo Balkman in the first round in an attempt to prove that he knew something no one else did. Donnie selected Iman because of his athletic ability on the defensive end and his willingness to work hard. A few years ago a long-armed athletic guard was overlooked by the Knicks -- Rajon Rondo. I'm not saying that Iman can become the passer that Rondo is, but I believe there are many similarities on the defensive end and different advantages on the offensive end.

Later on the Knicks were able to move Billups to sign the best interior defender available in Tyson Chandler. The need for Shumpert became more urgent, and the rest is history. Scouts and analysts can only predict so much; eventually the only thing that matters is how a player performs in NBA games. The picks of Iman and Josh Harrellson got Donnie Walsh a C- grade by most experts. Now you can argue that the Knicks ended up with the most value in the 2011 draft with two contributing rookies for a playoff-bound team.

Iman Shumpert still has much to learn, but for now he is a defensive specialist. The Knicks finally have a guard that can stick with the top SGs and PGs in the league. This frees up Landry Fields from guarding players like Kobe Bryant, or Baron Davis or Jeremy Lin from being matched up against Derrick Rose. Even if Iman does not contribute much on offense, his defense earns him the right to be on the court during crucial moments in the game -- throughout the year we have seen Iman get timely strips and steals in the clutch. At last there is someone to stop the constant penetration from the perimeter that puts a ton of pressure on Chandler, usually leading to foul trouble for the big man.

Offensively Iman has started to find his role since he moved to the shooting guard position. At the start of the year, he looked lost at the point guard position and ended up taking too many forced shots. His shooting is still below average but has seen improvement, and he still makes over 30% of his three-pointers. He has shown flashes of being able to drive to the basket with his 46-inch vertical leap. Oh yeah, and this guy has more confidence than most; in his own words, he's "swaying."

When it's all said and done, Iman has earned his playing time on the defensive side of the ball. He is ranked 5th in steals per game this season trailing only Chris Paul, Mike Conley, LeBron James, and Paul Millsap while playing the least amount of minutes in the group. The last time he was paired against Derrick Rose he came away with 4 steals against the reigning MVP. It’s a shame that Donnie Walsh has moved on from the Knicks organization because once again the old man has proven to be the smartest man in the room.

Next Asian America’s Team topic: It's Raining Threes

Photos and videos courtesy of David Sherman/Getty Images and YouTube


I knew he was sick after watching all his summer ball highlights.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...