When he was drafted two years ago, he was booed. When he took the court, he won the hearts of New York Knicks fans everywhere. When he tore his ACL in the playoffs last season, those same Knick fans shed a tear for him, and when he came back they loved him even more.
Now, Iman Shumpert is coming into his own as a Knick and, one day, he will become a superstar for the team that took a chance on him.
Shumpert has averaged a serviceable 8.3 points per game over the course of his career with New York, and has struggled mightily in some stretches over those two years. However, he has shown flashes of excellence that foreshadow a career of stardom.
Shumpert has the personality of a superstar basketball player. He has the swagger that comes along with playing ball in New York—he even tried his hand at rapping while recovering from his knee surgery and released a full-length mixtape—and has an old school aura about him.
The flattop, the rapping and the swagger are all great and make Shumpert a fan favorite in New York, but all of it would be meaningless if it weren’t for his game. Combining freaky athleticism, elite defensive ability and an improving overall offensive repertoire has resulted in Shumpert’s growing role in the future of the Knicks.
When he was drafted with the 17th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, very few (if any) Knick fans had any idea that the 6’5” point guard from Georgia Tech would turn out to be arguably the best on-ball defender in the NBA in just his second year in the league. Kenneth Faried, Chandler Parsons and Tobias Harris (all budding stars in their own right) were still on the board.
Despite passing on some potential studs, the Knicks made the right call in choosing Shumpert. At 22 years old, he is the youngest player on the team, but plays like he’s a veteran. In just his second professional season, Shumpert has solidified himself as the best defender on the team and one of the best in the NBA, and has expanded his offensive game a great deal. He improved his three-point shooting percentage from 30.6 percent in his rookie season to 40.2 percent in his sophomore campaign in 2012-13 and started every game that he played in.
Shumpert has stepped up in the playoffs thus far, giving the Knicks 9.0 points per game to go along with 6.8 rebounds and nearly 2.0 steals a night. With Carmelo Anthony struggling in Game 6 of the team’s first round series against the Boston Celtics, it was Shumpert who led the Knicks to their first playoff series victory in 13 years.
The second-year guard had 17 points (6-of-9 from the floor), six rebounds, two steals, one block, and no turnovers. It was a sensationally poised performance in a game that would have forced some of his peers to succumb to the immense pressure.
Shumpert thrived under the pressure, hitting three-pointers in the face of Paul Pierce and doing Jason Terry’s trademark “Jet” celebration as he ran down the sideline. This was an elimination game in one of the most hostile atmospheres in all of sports, but Shumpert wasn’t fazed—he was too busy having fun.
You know what else is going to be fun? Watching this kid grow from a good defender with a flattop into one of the best all-around players in the NBA.