The New York Knicks are in a favorable position heading into the season's final months, but switching up the starting five could be the tweak they need to make a push for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Since Iman Shumpert's Jan. 17 return, he's played the role of starting small forward for Mike Woodson. Naturally, Shump is a shooting guard who resembles more of a 1 than a 3, so there's been a clear adjustment period. With Jason Kidd stationed at the starting 2-guard, Shumpert hasn't been allowed to play his natural, and most comfortable position on the floor.
This will need to change in order for Shumpert to bring his full potential to the floor each night.
Why Make The Change?
Swapping Kidd out of the starting lineup will accomplish two things, both helping the Knicks down the stretch: First, it'll help preserve the 39-year-old Kidd's stamina for the postseason. Kidd's sudden drop-off in production made it clear that Woodson relied on his veteran guard much too often in the season's first half.
Second, it will enable Shumpert to play with the confidence he had last season, and defend guards along the perimeter, which (for whatever reason) Woodson has been reluctant to allow in 2013.
Shumpert's first—and only—assignment on an opposing point guard this season was against Chris Paul during the matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. Needless to say, the second-year man struggled against the quickest point guard in the NBA, and that matchup lasted exactly two quarters before Woodson decided Raymond Felton was more fit to cover Paul.
Shumpert hasn't matched up with a rival point guard since.
Those who watched his astounding rookie season are well aware of the defensive presence he brings in the backcourt.
Often matched up with the opposition's top guard, Shumpert came away on the winning side of the battle more often than not.
Re-Tooled Starting Five
With Shumpert at the 2 and Kidd being demoted in favor of rest, the Knicks will have a few options in rounding out a new starting five.
Re-inserting Amar'e Stoudemire into the starting lineup is one option. Stoudemire could man the power forward spot, and Carmelo Anthony would then get bumped down to the 3. The main gripe here is that Anthony has been much more productive as a power forward than a small forward in 2012-13, so Woodson may be reluctant to make that sort of switch now.
The narrative that 'Melo and STAT can't coexist, however, is basically dead and gone. As seen below, according to NBA.com, both stars' statistics don't take significant hits when playing simultaneously.
Another option that could keep Amar'e seated, get Shump in the backcourt, and keep 'Melo at the 4, would be to—Knicks fans bear with me—start Ronnie Brewer at the small forward.
It's not a great option, but Brewer can—at the very least—hold his own defensively against smaller 3s. He proved early in the year that there is a chance of him running into a hot shooting streak—remember when he was a 42-percent three-point shooter through 17 games?
Aside from these options, making a deal for a capable small forward at the deadline wouldn't be a terrible idea for Glen Grunwald. And no, trading Shumpert shouldn't be likely.
More Natural On Both Ends Of The Court
Mike Woodson has shown a tendency to camp his wing players out in the corner, usually waiting for the open corner-three after a kick-out. Although greatly improved following his recovery—he's a 41.4-percent shooter from downtown in '13—long-range shooting isn't Shumpert's primary weapon offensively.
Most of Shumpert's points come from inside the arc. As a rookie, he shot 61 percent on attempts at the rim, and just 30 from three-point range.
From the corners—instead of chucking threes—Shumpert has attempted to go one-on-one with defenders. He's just 4-of-13 on those isolation plays, per Synergy.
In fact, Shumpert has been especially poor while shooting from the corners. His three-point success has come from above the break, where he's 9-of-16. From the corners, he's sank only 3-of-12.
When operating from the corners—whether it be isolation or three-pointers—he's a 5-of-24 shooter outside of the paint. Shumpert just isn't Woodson's prototypical wing player.
Shump's offensive game is primarily based on athleticism—slashing and cutting to the rack. If put in more of a traditional backcourt environment, his offensive skill set would be a better fit within the offense, thus leading to even more confidence on defense.
Best Is Yet To Come
It's important to remember that Shumpert is 22 years old. In his inaugural NBA campaign, he was All-Rookie First Team, and is currently playing his way into NBA shape after recovering from ACL and meniscus repair.
Even through early struggles, the sophomore has played impressive defense this year, according to the numbers. Per Synergy, opposing shooters are just 3-of-13 against Shumpert in iso situations. When Shumpert defends pick-and-roll ball-handlers, they're 1-of-13.
The one flaw to Shump's defensive game is his working around screens, which is still an issue in his second season. He's allowed 7-of-9 scorers to hit off screens this season. Screens have given the Knicks defense fits in recent weeks, and it's an unfortunate coincidence that their best defender shares the same Kryptonite as the rest of the bunch. That aspect of the defense will have to improve.
As a rookie, Shumpert posted a defensive efficiency of 99.3. A year later, that number sits at a slightly larger 100.7, per NBA.com. He finished seventh league-wide in steals per game in 2011-12, and first among rookies by a wide margin.
As he gains more confidence—and more health—with more minutes logged, it's almost a lock to expect the same stellar defending we've already seen from Shumpert. Contrary to reports by Chris Sheridan, New York is where he wants to be.
A change in position would bring about a change in fortune for Shumpert, who has been playing out of position, and out of whack.
With more minutes comes more health and confidence, and the best place for those minutes to come from is at the shooting guard, where Shumpert has thrived in his young career.
Then all Shump needs to worry about is remaining a Knick through Thursday's trade deadline.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.