New Kids on the ‘Bock: Iman Shumpert
I left New York City Saturday morning exhausted and irrationally upset over not being able to watch — thanks to a four hour drive home — the Knicks’ first preseason game against the Nettes.
When I got home, I immediately checked the box score — a 92-83 win in Newark — scoped some of the game’s highlights, and promptly purchased a one-way ticket aboard the Iman Shumpert hype train.
In June, I attended my first NBA Draft. It was a chaotic night, wrought with seat malfunctions, botched celebrity encounters, and shitty jetpack views. One thing that did not deceive or defy me, however, was the sheer decibel intensity of the crowd’s reaction to the Knicks drafting of one Iman Asante Shumpert. That was very real. And very loud. Luckily, Iman wasn’t around to hear it, having decided instead to watch the proceedings with family and friends back in Chicago. However, this also meant that I was the only TrueHoop blogger who wouldn’t have an opportunity to interview his team’s newest addition at the open Q&A session.
To make matters worse, I spent the subsequent 20-minute cab ride back to my hotel playing dart board to my driver’s indignation against passing up on the likes of Chris Singleton, Josh Selby, and some chick named Sasha. By the end of the ride, I was convinced that Iman Shumpert had gone to UNLV, was a terrorist, had never tallied an assist, and kidnapped the Lindberg baby. Furthermore, I was fairly certain that, with a Chris Paul hostage situation looming large over the lockout landscape, Shumpert’s upside had already been packaged and sent to the mail room, to await the go-ahead that would see the greatest pure point guard in the game arrive in passing through the receiving bay door.
And then the lockout happened.
One of the much-neglected side effects of any professional sports work stoppage is the awkward fervor with which teams and their masses celebrate their newly-drafted or acquired talent. In the age of YouTube and Twitter, withdrawn fans can bide their time and temper their angst with reams of expired college highlights and workout footage, in the process fattening up their pick’s Best of All Possible Players scenario for the potential long winter ahead. When you root for the Knicks — in a city like New York — the process can border on the Messianic. For the player, it can seem suffocating.
Luckily, Iman Shumpert doesn’t require oxygen to live. All he needs is a ball, a gym, a few folding chairs (this video is out there, and I will find it), and — for the crescendo’s final octave — the New Jersey Nets.
In his first game as a Knick, Shumpert tallied 16 on 6-11 shooting (and a team high +/- of +14). All told, it was an undeniably impressive performance for a rookie who has been compared to everything from pickled herring (you know who you are) to a poor man’s Dwayne Wade in the six months since his drafting. For a team still piecing together some semblance of a coherent back court to pair with its newly Chandlerized front three — arguably the most talented in the league on paper — at the very least the performance helped keep in check rumblings that resurrecting Michael Redd or Gilbert Arenas might make for a worthwhile attempt at alchemy.
A Chicago native who plodded through a three-year mixed bag career at Georgia Tech, prior to the Draft Shumpert had become associated more with why Derrick Favors hadn’t broken Pete Maravich’s single season scoring record than with his own individual skills or success. Specifically, Shumpert was — the story went — one of the selfish gunners who had unjustly deprived Favors of dunk-ready touches; something which supposedly cost the lottery lock Favors the privilege of being drafted over John Wall and Evan Turner.
Upon his drafting, the questions surrounding Shumpert’s “true position” were many. Those who saw the supposed “Favors effect” as something which hindered the growth of both involved might believe that true point guard skills can still be developed. And to the extent that a good number of floor generals don’t reach their potential for years — if at all — they’d be right. Others took from the many off-season training mash-ups the impression that Shumpert was and remains more concerned with honing his shooting and slashing abilities, conscripted as he’s been to star in a system where both are musts.
We do know he’s a very good — and potentially great — defender. Having been the first ACC player in over three decades to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, and assists, we know he’s versatile — the quintessential Swiss Arm knife over whom Mike D’Antoni has been known to covet. We’ve gleaned from interviews a picture of a perceptive, determined individual who says and does all the right things with an enthusiasm and sincerity unbecoming his neophyte status. Perhaps most of all, we know New York’s feeling is more than mutual. We really, really like this guy, and with plenty of good cause.
But as with many before him, we’d be forgiven for becoming too attached too quickly. Not since Charlie Ward gave up gridiron for hardwood in 1994 has a Knick draft pick been kept a-roster longer than five years. In that sense, our enthusiasm for Shumpert — our illogical fawning over his steel-bending potential — speaks to a larger sense of regret at having neglected the notion of “home-grown talent” for so long. We saw it with Landry Fields, whom last year’s Melodrama somehow spared, while Danillo Gallinari — once something of a franchise savior himself — was shipped out to the disdain of millions. Before that was David Lee. Before that, some dude named Mardy. But as time’s gone on, it seems like the rooks are being welcomed with an increasing pitch and timbre. With Shumpert, it seems like the fervor might finally be loud enough the powers that be to not just hear, but heed.
Yes, it’s only been one game. Against a really bad team. Yes, his college stats yield as many question marks as exclamation points. Yes, he’s earned a reputation as something of a chucker, who used the dearth of talent around him as an excuse for said chucking, rather than a prompt to use his playmaking abilities to lift all boats. Yes, he’ll have to rely on much more than freakish hops and a dastardly handle to get to his spots. And yes, even when he gets to those spots, canning the 18-footer is a far, far different thing when the two lone cameras and dozen or so gymnasium onlookers are suddenly replaced with the haloed cheers and jeers of the World’s Greatest.
Regardless, Shumpert already has many believing that a future franchise cornerstone might for once have been dredged from the rough, and not — as has typically been the case — bought past the luster’s apex. Obviously it’s far too early to tell whether Shumpert’s fate will see him donning the orange and blue long enough — and proudly enough — to make his a rafter-bound career. But whether he’s here for a New York minute, a new era’s crowning, or something wholly in between, it sure seems like it’ll be a hell of a ride.
Iman Shumpert seems to think as much. Here’s his last tweet:
@I_Am_Iman: Another day another dollar… best office in the world!
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.