Iman Shumpert is, by all indications, a good basketball player. It seems that everyone has accepted this fact. Everyone, that is, except for Mike Woodson.
“Iman plays hard. That to me is the thing that’s kept him on the floor,” said Woodson, who declared last week that Shumpert will compete with J.R. Smith for a starting job. “Iman just has to figure it out. We’ve got to help him figure out his game that coincides with what we want to do. He’s got to be able to play pick-and-roll offense. He’s got to be able to run the team with the ball in his hands, because our ‘ones’ and ‘twos’ and ‘threes’ handle the basketball. There are a number of things.”
This quote is troubling as saying “playing hard” is what’s kept Shumpert on the floor is a disservice to his play. Shumpert is the team’s best perimeter defender (and second best defender overall behind Tyson Chandler), capable of guarding three positions. In last year’s playoffs, when Shumpert was finally fully healthy, opposing teams scored nearly five points more per 100 possessions when Shumpert was on the bench, according to Basketball-Reference.com. As for his offense, though it’s still not to the level of his defense, it is improving. Woodson’s right — Shumpert does need to improve his pick and roll play, as he only scored .71 points per play as the ball handler in pick and roll situations and turned it over nearly 16% of the time, per MySynergySports.com. However, he was only in said situations 44 times, an extremely small sample size. Shumpert’s offense was strongest in perhaps the most-needed area for the Knicks: spot-up shooting. In these situations, Shumpert scored 1.1 points per play and shot 44% from deep. He is the ideal Three-and-D wing that’s so important not just in today’s league, but specifically for New York’s spread, three-heavy offense.
As Matt Moore of CBSSports.com points out, starting Shumpert plays to Smith’s strengths:
In fact, with the burst that Smith provides off the bench, and the fact that he needs a ridiculously high usage rate to accomplish that production — something difficult with another high-usage player in Carmelo Anthony on the floor– it’s arguably a better tactic to repeat last year’s plan of starting Shumpert and bringing Smith off the bench. Shumpert does what the Knicks need: defend at a high level, stay out of trouble, and hit corner threes. (Shumpert shot over 43 percent from the corner last year.)
It’s as if Woodson stumbles onto something that works well, and then tries to correct his misstep by reverting back to ill-fated tactics. His two-point guard lineups found success in the regular season, but found little time in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony was a terror playing the four, so of course Woodson opted to start a more traditional line up, with Kenyon Martin at the four, in game six against the Pacers. Shumpert is a great fit for the offense, and better suited to be a starter than J.R. Smith, yet Woodson still says that the starting two guard spot is up for grabs.
What’s further concerning about Woodson’s treatment of Shumpert is how sharply it contrasts with that of J.R. Smith.
Shumpert has been a model citizen for the Knicks, while J.R. Smith has been a model embarrassment. Yet Woodson, indeed the entire Knicks organization, is willing, if not eager, to cater to Smith’s every whim and desire. Further, while Woodson says he coaches all players the same, he’s rarely criticized Smith’s erratic play. That Smith won last year’s
Best Non-Starting Scorer In The Last Two Months Of The Season Sixth Man Of The Year award should provide immunity against any criticism.
Mike Woodson is a good coach, one that wants to see Iman Shumpert fully realize his talent, just as any coach should want for their young, talented and moldable player. But what kind of message does it send to that player when his hard work is met with little else but criticism, while the volatile, troubled player at the same position escapes such wrath?
Statistical support for this article provided by basketball-reference.com and MySynergySports.com