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Blurred Vision: The Iman Shumpert vs. Jimmy Butler Debate

A little over a week ago, big boss Matt Moore posed this question on our favorite social media site:

When I first saw it, I said Butler almost immediately. I didn’t put much thought behind my answer; I just went with my gut feeling. But maybe it’s because we’re only five months removed from watching him light up the Miami Heat in the playoffs to the sound of 15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 43 percent shooting from the floor and 42.1 percent from the three. It also helped that he displayed his defensive prowess by ‘holding’ LeBron James to 43.8 percent shooting over the five games series – way below his post-season average. Iman Shumpert on the other hand, had a quieter post-season, one that was overshadowed by a heavy dose of Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith chucking up shot after shot en route to an early second-round exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers. He also tore his ACL last year, which did sway my decision slightly.

But really, how do you go about answering that question? They’re very different players, operating in completely different systems. Sure, they both make their money on the defensive end, but the way they each go about getting their points is like night and day. So where am I going with this? Well, when you do take a step back and look at how they matchup against one another purely from a quantitative standpoint, they appear to be the same player, which kind of blew my mind. And that’s what exactly Matt was referring to when he said “a lot of people will wonder why it’s a debate.”

So you know what’s coming next: the evidence. First, let’s take a look at their per game statistics from last year. It’s worth nothing that I’ve deliberately removed their names and a couple of other categories in an attempt to keep their identities unknown…for now.

Everything from their field goal attempts, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers and points per game are all in the same ball park, but to make matters even more interesting, here are their per 36 numbers, which are even more similar.
Eerie, right?
Whether or not you can tell who they are just from the numbers above is regardless. The point here is they’re almost identical statistically on a per minute basis.  But for the sake of making this post move along, Player 1 is Jimmy Butler and Player 2 is Iman Shumpert.
There is one glaring difference between the two, though, and that lies in the shooting numbers. As you’ll be able to tell in the extended table below, Butler’s field goal percentage was 7.1 percent better than Shumpert’s last season, which may be the only thing that Bulls fans can hang their hat on in this debate. For now, at least.
However, in saying that, Shumpert does take and make more threes, which, thanks to the effective field goal percentage stat, puts them both on a more level playing field in an advanced setting.

There is a larger discrepancy between their true shooting percentages, but that can be explained. First of all, the Bulls were without Derrick Rose for the whole season, which put some pressure on the likes of Butler to be more aggressive on the offensive end. To no surprise, Butler’s field goal attempts per game jumped from 1.9 in his rookie season to 6.2 last year and since most of those were around the basket, he was bound to get hacked a couple of times a game. The same can’t really be said about Shump. For one, he missed half the season as he was recovering from a torn ACL. I, for one, don’t blame him for shooting a little more instead of driving to the basket, at least until his knee was back to full strength. Secondly, his all-star teammate, Carmelo Anthony, was perfectly healthy, so there were less opportunities to go around for everyone. Finally, he’s playing for Mike Woodson – a man who foams at the mouth when the word “three pointer” comes up.

But that’s all contextual stuff, so I’m done with that.

At the end of the day, your reasoning behind who you’d rather have as a building block for your team will likely extend beyond the box-scores and advanced stats. If it doesn’t, it should. Statistics are a big help when evaluating players, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all. Nevertheless, sometimes you can’t help but marvel over how similar players like Jimmy Butler and Iman Shumpert are when you remove the context and focus entirely on the numbers. And maybe it’ll even make you think twice about how you initially answered the question.

Scott Rafferty