Iman Shumpert is set to return today when the Knicks take on the Detroit Pistons in London, England. Coming off a brutal ACL injury, Shumpert’s level of athleticism is unknown. I’ve seen Adrian Peterson used as an example of how Shumpert could come back at the same level of athleticism, or even better, but there are countless examples of athletes who are never the same after such an injury. Either way, Shumpert’s return should provide a much needed boost to the defensively challenged Knicks. A top five defense a year ago, New York has had a plethora of problems on that end of the court this season.
We shouldn’t expect Iman Shumpert to come back and be a defensive savior. That is unfair to him as a second year player coming off a devastating injury. Nobody is expecting Shumpert’s return to launch the Knicks back into elite defensive prominence. Having said that, Shumpert is definitely an upgrade over a mediocre group of perimeter defenders, even if he’s not the athlete he was last season. I’m going to break down the areas in which Shumpert will help the team.
First off, Shumpert is an upgrade over guys like Ronnie Brewer and James White, on both ends of the court. With today’s NBA trending towards smaller and smaller lineups, I think Shumpert playing alongside Felton/Prigioni and Jason Kidd in a three guard lineup can work. In that sort of lineup, while he is a very inconsistent shooter, he will be an upgrade over Brewer who has been nothing short of unplayable on offense over the past month. Having Shumpert in the fold also makes playing Carmelo Anthony at the 4 spot much easier for Woodson. Rather than having lineups with both Brewer and White (welp) alongside Anthony, he’ll be able to insert Shumpert who can at least give the team a boost on defense. It will be interesting to see what Mike Woodson does once Raymond Felton gets healthy. For the near future, I believe we’ll see Shumpert mostly at the 2-guard spot, due to lack of depth at point guard. It is unknown whether Shumpert will start or come off the bench. If I was coaching, I’d probably start Shumpert but bring along his minutes slowly. I’d go with Prigioni-Kidd-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler. You can play that lineup for the first six minutes of the game, then bring in Novak and JR for Shumpert and Kidd and get into your rotation. It’ll be interesting to see what Woodson does. I think any lineup that has Anthony on the floor with two bigs is a mistake, but Woodson has often used the seemingly useless tactic of playing Kurt Thomas for 3 seconds at the start of a game before going to the bench. With Shumpert back in the fold, I see no reason to do that.
From a defensive standpoint, the Knicks really could use Shumpert. They’re ranked 16th in the league in defensive efficiency. MySynergySports has them as the 18th best defense in the league in terms of Points Per Possession allowed. Let’s look to Synergy to see where the Knicks really struggle on defense.
The Knicks have really struggled defending isolations, where they are 28th ranked defense in the league. You can see on the chart above that Knick opponents are finishing possessions in isolation 12% of the time and they’ve been pretty successful doing so. Current Knicks perimeter players are struggling in these situations. Jason Kidd is allowing opponents to shoot 44.4% in isolation, allowing 1.05 PPP. Raymond Felton is allowing opponents to shoot 46.4% at 0.97 PPP. Pablo Prigioni’s numbers sit at 44% and 0.97 PPP. These are not good numbers. I’m not picking on those guys, as I like all three players, but they’ve been horrible guarding opposing guards mainly because they aren’t good at defense. However, Shumpert returning will allow the Knicks to hide these guys a bit more than they would otherwise. He also defended quite well in isolation last season, holding opponents to just 33.8% shooting for 0.69 PPP.
Shumpert will add to the Knicks already solid spot up defense. His biggest deficiency on defense was when he had to fight over picks. As aggressive an on-ball defender as he is, he was passive in fighting over screens and often switched too easily. The Knicks got away with it because they had better perimeter defenders on last year’s team, but Shumpert can’t do that with this team. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays screens, as the Knicks as a team have continued to switch much easier than they should.
Shumpert’s greatest impact on defense will be helping to keep opponents out of the paint. The Knicks are the 4th worst team in opponents shooting % at the rim. As we’ve seen again and again this season, quick guards have had their way with the Knick defense. I believe this is a bigger problem predicated around bad team defense, but having guards like Felton and Kidd who struggle to keep opponents in front of them doesn’t help. Many of these looks for opponents are coming in the pick and roll game where the Knicks defense is ranked 23rd in defensive PPP allowed to ball handlers, also a product of bad team defense. However, Shumpert being attacked in the pick and roll should be more effective for the Knicks than Kidd or Felton.
Offensively, it’ll be interesting to see how Shumpert shoots the ball. Recovering from injury all off-season, I doubt he had much of a chance to improve his three point shooting. However, I don’t think he’s quite as bad at shooting as his numbers last season would indicate. Recall that early last season, thanks to Toney Douglas being historically terrible, Mike D’Antoni had to play Shumpert at point guard. Given how offensively challenged the Knicks were, Shumpert was encouraged to shoot. Alot. He wasn’t successful in that role and his shooting percentages really suffered. However, if you look at the last two months of last season, he shot much better than he did early in the season.
If the Knicks can get 34% 3PT shooting from Shumpert, I think they’ll be pretty satisfied. He’s an offensive upgrade over James White and definitely an upgrade over Brewer. The Knicks 4-out sets should bode well for Shumpert as there will be good space for him to get to the rim, whether it be off the dribble or by cutting.
Don’t expect Iman Shumpert to come in and be the savior. The Knicks defensive problems run deeper than what Shumpert coming off injury can fix. But make no mistake, he’ll definitely help the Knicks defense. Assuming he’s not a completely different player athletically, Shumpert gives the Knicks an elite level perimeter defender that they don’t already have. Offensively, I think Shumpert is an upgrade over James White and he’s definitely an upgrade over Ronnie Brewer. With Shumpert back, those players won’t have to play as big of a role on the team which is good for everybody. I could not be more excited for reshumpification and he’ll upgrade the team on both ends of the court, but the expectations for him should be modest.
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