When the Knicks drafted Iman Shumpert in the 2011 NBA Draft, it wasn’t because of his sterling outside shooting.
In fact, shooting efficiency and 3-point shooting were seen as perhaps Shumpert’s biggest weaknesses. DraftExpress.com’s prospect profile of Shumpert said his shooting “remain[s] by far his biggest weakness.” NBADraft.net’s pre-draft scouting report called him a “very poor jump shooter” and “not efficient at all” on offense. In his pre-draft analysis, ESPN’s Chad Ford at the time said Shumpert, “Struggles with his jump shot,” and has, “Unproven 3-point range.” In his last year at Georgia Tech, Shumpert made fewer than 28 percent of 3-pointers and shot 40.6% from the field.
Unsurprisingly, his first year in the pros validated the wise words from the wise wags. Shumpert shot 30.6% from 3 and had a true shooting percentage of 48.4%. After last season, then-ESPN NBA analyst John Hollinger put quite a fine point on it, calling him a, “Poor outside shooter.”
And now, a year later, here we are. I’ll give you the stats, but just know that Iman Shumpert shot a better percentage from 3 in the 2012-2013 regular season than Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Ryan Anderson. In just one season, Shumpert went from non-shooter to elite 3-point shooter.
Shumpert shot 40.6% from 3 last season, nearly ten full percentage points better than his rookie year. He bumped up his true shooting percentage by 3.2 percentage points and his effective field goal percentage by 2.5 percentage points. He shot a very good 43.4% from the corner 3 in the regular season, and 9 for 15 from the corner in the playoffs. In those playoffs, when the Knicks faced the most efficient and sixth-most efficient defenses in the NBA, Shumpert actually improved his shooting numbers from the regular season.
Put simply, Shumpert emerged as the sort of efficient shooting threat no one ever expected he would. He fits in particularly well in a modern, Popovich-ian NBA offense that puts a premium on floor spacing and 3-point shooting (the prized goal of which, of course, is the corner 3; the most efficient jump shot in basketball.)
Zach Lowe, an NBA savant who you must read regularly if you don’t already, wrote that Shumpert might be emerging as a new age Shane Battier — a guy who makes efficiency hounds salivate with his ability to defend multiple wing positions and shoot 3s at an elite clip. If Shumpert can combine this newfound elite 3-point shooting ability with his phenomenal multiple-position on-ball defense, his active hands, his explosiveness and athleticism, his ability to get to the rim, and his high basketball IQ, the Knicks might have a really accomplished two-way player on their hands (who, by the way, will be 23 on June 26.)
But can he? Are Shumpert’s shooting improvements sustainable? Unfortunately, we don’t know – because Iman Shumpert has not taken enough shots.
The hope here is that Shumpert’s newfound shooting effectiveness is because of natural player development and his shift to the wing position. He came out of college as a PG/SG, and continued to play point during much of the first half of the 2011-2012 regular season. After Jeremy Lin’s emergence, Shumpert moved to the wing position for the second half of that year.
From that point on, his shooting numbers showed a major improvement. After the All-Star break his true shooting percentage jumped a remarkable 7.8 percentage points to 52.7, his effective field goal percentage improved by 7.7 percentage points, and tellingly, his usage rate dropped by almost 5 percentage points. Freed from ball-handling duties, Shumpert embraced his position on the wing. He touched the ball less and shot far more efficiently, at rates similar to what he put up this past year.
It is possible that player development and embracing his wing role has led to Shumpert’s dramatic 3-point shooting improvement. For example, in 2012-2013 he took 42.5% of his 3s from the corner compared to just 30% in 2011-2012, suggesting a far better and more efficient shot selection. According to Synergy, he has also dramatically increased his shooting percentage on spot-up jumpers and spot-up 3s, and took far fewer shots off pick-and-rolls.
In other words, it is possible that Shumpert moved to the wing position a year and a half ago and never looked back. It is possible that this is all sustainable.
The fear is that Shumpert’s newfound shooting effectiveness is a small sample size mirage. Iman Shumpert has played 104 total NBA regular season games, just over one full season. Last year, he took 125 3-pointers. Behind those gaudy 3-point percentages is a fewer number of attempts than he probably takes during an hour of shooting drills at the gym. The fear is that Shumpert caught fire in March and had a fluky three months of basketball. The fear is that Shumpert had several lucky months that mask that he is who has been since college – an explosive athlete, a dominant defender, and a non-shooter.
The fact is that we don’t have enough data to know whether this is sustainable. The truth might lie somewhere in the middle, but it also might not. And as the Knicks front office faces difficult personnel decisions moving forward, most dramatically whether to include him as part of a potential trade package for an impact player, it sure would be helpful if we knew more about Iman Shumpert.