New York has been a hotbed for crippling news recently. Just ask Raymond Felton. Or Rasheed Wallace. Or even Carmelo Anthony.
According to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com, the Knicks have finally received news that isn't cause for distress:
Believe me when I say that Shumpert's return going from hypothetical to imminent is great news. Because the Knicks need him—badly.
I'll be the first to admit that Shumpert won't solve the point-guard problem. He can run the offense in a pinch, but the only player who can allow the Knicks to move Jason Kidd back off the ball, where he is most effective these days, is Felton.
Fortunately for New York, its offense isn't the problem. The Knicks are scoring at a rate of 111.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-highest mark in the league.
The boys in orange and blue don't need a point guard. Not as badly as they need defense of any kind.
Enter Shumpert, unfortunate hightop and all.
At 6'5", 22-year-old Shumpert embodies defensive versatility. He can defend either guard position and won't hesitate to suffocate a small forward as well.
He's the one who will be tasked with manning elite wings that stand to torch the Knicks. He's young, athletic and defensively conscious. In other words, he's everything this team is not.
Which is great.
Because at present, New York is tied for 18th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions.
Just as importantly, the Knicks are getting spanked on the perimeter. They're allowing opponents to score 23.6 points per game from behind the arc (seventh-most in the league) on a 35.8-percent clip (tied for 15th).
To put New York's defensive woes into an even broader perspective, the team allowed just 101 points per 100 possessions last season, the fifth-best mark in the league. And that came with Mike D'Antoni manning the sidelines for half the season, mind you.
So when we say Shumpert's return is a godsend, we're not kidding.
Only last year, the Knicks allowed just 102.1 points per 100 possessions with the then-rookie on the floor, a far cry from the 106.2 they're currently relinquishing.
Good, you're not supposed to be. It could have been a coincidence. After all, New York actually allowed fewer points when he was off the floor.
Absolutely nothing, because it's not important in that context.
What's important is that last season was better than what the Knicks are allowing now. And that (per 82games.com) of all three positions Shumpert defended last season, he held his opponents to a combined average PER of 11.3 per 48 minutes.
That's what the Knicks need.
They need someone who can break up passing lanes while playing off the ball. They need the athlete who finished in the Top 10 in steals per game (1.7) last season, They need an agile guard who can stifle opposing offenses in transition. They need a perimeter defender who will not be passed.
They need Shumpert.
And the sophomore himself (via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News) knows it:
“Physically I feel great. I don’t think I’ll have any setbacks in that department. Right now I’m just looking forward to making sure I know all the coverages and the system to the best of my ability before I come back,” Shumpert said after practice Saturday in Greenburgh. “I know the guys have been waiting [for me]. I think I can relieve a little bit of the pressure as far as defensively being a presence, offensively just being that energy guy. I’m the youngest guy on the team, and I’m the one that’s full of life all the time. That’s what they expect. They expect more of my spirit, and me coming out here and providing that energy.”
Shumpert knows what the Knicks expect and need of him.
His perimeter defense is a missing link in what has suddenly become a troubling backcourt attack.
With Felton riding the pine, New York has been left to rely on Kidd, a savvy veteran who plays great off-ball defense but can't keep pace with most of the league's point guards. Then there's Pablo Prigioni, the vibrant 35-year-old who takes far too many chances on the ball and can only muster defensive competence in spurts.
Not even Ronnie Brewer, a universally proclaimed defensive stopper, has been able to live up to his reputation.
That's not just a problem; it's an inevitable downfall.
One that has helped fuel the Knicks' extended stretch of defensive ineptitude.
One that is liable to shift the odds from contending to pretending.
And one that Shumpert stands to eradicate.
That makes Shumpert the difference between legitimate contention and yet another promising campaign marred by—and subsequently ended at the hands of—self-inflicted disappointment.
*All stats in this article are accurate through Jan. 13, 2013.
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