7 Improvements Iman Shumpert Must Make to Blossom into a Star for the Knicks

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2012

7 Improvements Iman Shumpert Must Make to Blossom into a Star for the Knicks

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    If not for Jeremy Lin hogging all the headlines, Iman Shumpert's emergence as a budding star would've been the biggest surprise of the 2011-12 NBA season for the New York Knicks.

    The 6'5" guard out of Georgia Tech spent much of his rookie season shuttling between the starting lineup and the bench as Mike D'Antoni attempted to determine by trial-and-error at which position he'd be most valuable to the team. That internal debate came to a rather swift conclusion once Mike Woodson took over on the bench and installed Shumpert as the Knicks' 2-guard of choice.

    Shumpert's game flourished as a result. He put together a pair of 25-point performances shortly thereafter and established himself as a potential stopper on the defensive end.

    Then, to the dismay of Knicks fans everywhere, Shumpert pulled up lame with a torn ACL in Game 1 of New York's first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat. Shumpert's injury proved devastating, as the Knicks fell in five games, though for reasons that extend far beyond the absence of a single precocious youngster.

    Still, the future is bright for Shump. He has plenty on which to work if he's to become a true standout at Madison Square Garden, though he'd do well to start with these seven improvements.

The Health of His Knee

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    Iman Shumpert can't get to working on his game until he's fit to set foot on a basketball court.

    Unfortunately, that day may not come for some time. Shump went under the knife to repair the ACL in his left knee in early May and, according to Marcus Henry of Newsday, is sticking rather closely to the eight-month timetable for recovery that he was given.

    Which, in all likelihood, means he won't be ready for game action until the new year.

    All the Knicks can hope for is that Shump doesn't encounter any setbacks between now and then so that he'll be prepared to contribute to New York's playoff push through the winter and spring.

His Strength and Conditioning

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    On a similar note, it's imperative that Shumpert get his conditioning back up to snuff.

    That was never an issue of great concern during his rookie season. Shumpert came into the league as a well-above-average athlete, one in good enough shape to warrant selection with the 17th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, albeit in a supposedly weak class.

    But Shump's ACL injury and the subsequent time away from basketball is bound to have a negative effect on the rest of his body. It'll take time and effort well beyond Shump's dedicated rehab for him to regain a measure of speed, quickness and athleticism that resembles his former self.

    He'll certainly need it if he's going to resume his life as a lock-down defender.

His Defense...Surprisingly Enough

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    Speaking of which, Iman is already far ahead of most players his age as a defender, though he's still far from perfect.

    On the one hand, Shump performed remarkably well when he wasn't defending his primary position. According to 82games.com, he limited opposing point guards to a collective player efficiency rating (PER) of 12.7 and small forwards to a PER of 4.8—both well below the pre-determined league average of 15.

    Per Synergy Sports (h/t Sebastian Pruiti), Shumpert limited all offensive players to 77 points in 111 tries when guarding them in isolation, and forced turnovers 24.3 percent of the time, thanks to his quick hands and even quicker feet.

    On the other hand, opposing shooting guards (i.e. players at Shumpert's own position) torched him for an above-average PER of 16.3. What's more, the Knicks actually gave up 1.6 more points per 48 minutes and allowed a slightly worse effective field-goal percentage when Shump was on the floor.

    Translation: Shumpert has the tools to be an All-Defensive performer, but must do a better job of handling other wings. That'll be a tough task coming off a major knee injury, though it should still be well within reach if his recovery progresses as planned.

His Rebounding

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    Not to spend too much time turning Shumpert's strength into a weakness, but the youngster could stand to work on his rebounding, as well.

    Shump's total rebound rate of 6.3 percent placed him 45th among guards, and his defensive rebound rate of 9.9 was only 52nd-best among his peers on the perimeter, per Hoopdata.

    Not exactly elite numbers, to say the least, especially for a guy whose specialty is cleaning up on defense. To be sure, Shumpert spends most of his time either making sure his opponents don't shoot or contesting their shots if they do, which doesn't usually leave him in position to clean up caroms.

    But, on a Knicks team that was patently middle-of-the-road on the boards, Shumpert must contribute more to that aspect of the cause if he's to rise to the top of the shooting-guard crop.

His Shooting

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    By and large, though, Iman's most pressing issues—at least, as far as stardom is concerned—reside on the offensive end.

    Whichever way you slice the data, one thing remains clear as day: the kid's shot needs work.

    He converted a woeful 40.1 percent of his attempts from the field, including 30.6 percent of his three-point attempts. Shump shot well at the rim (61.6 percent), but in that onerous area between three and 23 feet from the basket, he actually fared worse the closer he got, per Hoopdata.

    To that end, Shump's shooting stroke could certainly use some work. He entered the league with a funky, inconsistent form and didn't seem to do much to change it thereafter.

    And, in the NBA, the ceiling only extends so high for a guy who plays shooting guard and can't shoot.

His Pick-and-Roll Acumen

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    The Knicks' shuffle at point guard left Iman handling the ball in the pick-and-roll from time to time, be it on account of injuries (Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis) or ineffectiveness (Toney Douglas, Mike Bibby).

    He didn't fare all that well in that role, either. According to Sebastian Pruiti, Shumpert scored just 85 points in 156 possessions—or 0.545 points per play—as the maestro in pick-and-roll situations. Those numbers placed Shump among the worst pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the NBA.

    In his defense, Shumpert was miscast in this particular role. At this early stage of his career, Shump is much more efficient working off the ball, where he doesn't have to worry about making so many split-second decisions and can focus on putting his strength and athleticism to good use.

    But again, a rise to true stardom in a screen-heavy league will require that Shump be at least passable in such situations and that he develop a better feel for when to shoot, when to drive and when and to whom to pass.

His Proficiency at the Point

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    In the same vein, Shumpert will probably have to play the point on occasion in New York, what with the old (Jason Kidd), the out-of-shape (Raymond Felton) and the still-unproven (Pablo Prigioni) slated to split time on the ball.

    To that end, Shump has a ways to go before he can reliably handle the ball and create for others. He registered a negative pure-point rating, according to DraftExpress, and accounted for 47 bad passes and 45 ball-handling turnovers, despite a relatively low usage rate of 18.2 percent.

    Again, Shump isn't a natural point guard by any stretch of the imagination, nor is the point even his second-best position—that would be small forward.

    But if Shump is to be a star, he'll have to develop a more natural feel for the game and learn how to create for himself and others when called upon to do so.