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How Iman Shumpert Must Evolve to Become Carmelo Anthony's Wingman

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How Iman Shumpert Must Evolve to Become Carmelo Anthony's Wingman
USA TODAY Sports

Iman Shumpert is the future of the New York Knicks, but he's going to need to take a few strides forward before he becomes a bona fide second star behind Carmelo Anthony.

Despite elite defensive ability and a much-improved jump shot, Shump is still relatively raw, so this season will be key to his development as a player in the NBA.

Shumpert has been through a lot, getting booed on draft night before turning into a key rotation player and suffering an ACL tear in his rookie season. He's already started at three different positions for the Knicks, played for two different head coaches and has been relied on to guard the likes of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade in marquee games.

In the 2013 playoffs, Shumpert started to emerge as a big-time performer, especially in the first-round series against the Boston Celtics. In Game 6, he made arguably the most important play of the season, pulling off a steal and fast-break finish to snap the Celtics' 20-point streak.

Against the Celtics, Melo & Shump gave us a glimpse of what could end up being an elite partnership in future years.

New York would go on to win the game and advance to the second round, but he didn't play nearly as well against the Indiana Pacers, where he went on to shoot only 38 percent from the floor.

That inconsistency on offense is exactly what Shumpert will need to iron out this season. It's great that he's become a reliable three-point option in the corner, but he doesn't nearly have a diverse enough offensive game to become a go-to player.

Though he didn't play much in the summer league, Shumpert has likely spent a lot of time working on his scoring this offseason. He said he'd do as much in his exit interview and after looking at how he dealt with his injury, it's clear he's a hard worker with no shortage of motivation.

In particular, Shumpert will need to work on his mid-range game and shooting off the dribble. Considering how athletic he is, if he can shoot efficiently from 15-20 feet, that alone should be enough to see him raise his scoring significantly.

During his rookie season, a lot of Shumpert's buckets came at the rim, but he was less aggressive in 2012-13, likely due to being tentative about his surgically repaired knee. Towards the end of the season, however, he showed flashes of the explosive player we know he can be, highlighted by his insane put-back dunk against the Pacers.

Shumpert rocked the NBA with his put-back against Indiana.

When the new season starts, Shumpert will be a year-and-a-half removed from his injury and should get to the rim a lot more often now he's had time to fully recover from a physical and mental standpoint. 

Shumpert will be competing with J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni for minutes at shooting guard, but if he can work on these things this offseason, we could see him average around 14 points per game.

As for the rest of his game, Shumpert will need to work on defensive consistency, as well as improving as a passer. He tends to take risks a bit too often on both ends of the floor, but more game experience playing alongside Prigioni and Beno Udrih should help. 

In reality, 2013-14 is going to be Shumpert's first full season in the NBA, which only adds to his chances of having a breakout year. His rookie season was a lockout year in which the Knicks were in absolute turmoil, and he missed more than half of this past season with injury. Now he's got a chance to play a full training camp, preseason and regular season schedule for the first time.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Shump's first two seasons looked very similar to Paul George's.

For a player like Shumpert, who was considered to be more of a project coming out of college, that extra playing time could make a huge difference. He'll finally have the chance to get into rhythm in a consistent role and it can't be stressed how important that is.

Indiana's Paul George—the NBA's newest star after his standout performance in the playoffs—is a good example of what Shumpert could become in the near future. Like Shumpert, George started out as an elite defender with upside on offense and converted that into All-Star level play in his third season.

Both players have developed a solid outside shot and if Shumpert can add to the rest of his offensive game the way George has, it may not be long before he's a star in this league.

Shumpert's development has been stunted slightly by his injury, but if you look at their statistics through their first two seasons, it's clear there are some striking similarities between the two:

Player PPG APG RPG SPG FG% 3P% MPG
Iman Shumpert 8.3 2.3 3.1 1.4 40 35 26
Paul George 10.0 1.8 4.7 1.3 45 35 25

When George broke out last year, it vaulted the Pacers from the eighth seed in the East to the third, which just goes to show how important it is that New York makes Shumpert's development a priority. If he reaches his potential soon, he can put them over the top.

A big part of Shumpert's development will be dictated by the way Mike Woodson elects to use him in his rotation. With plenty of players capable of playing at the 2, Woody could decide to move him out of his natural position again.

That would be a mistake, however, because it's clear he's best suited to playing at shooting guard. At 6'5", he possesses prototypical height for the position and has struggled to guard taller opponents at small forward.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Woody needs to give Shumpert more time at his natural position.

Even if it means possibly playing Smith at small forward and reducing Raymond Felton's minutes to incorporate Prigioni and Udrih, Woodson should do everything he can to keep Shump at his natural position.

It's unlikely Shumpert will be a true second option for Anthony just yet, but that's OK. With Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, there's enough talent for the team to be a major competitor while Shumpert develops. If he does improve sooner rather than later, however, New York will be tough to stop.

According the New York Post, Melo believes we'll have to wait two seasons for Shump to be considered a "superstar" and that seems like a fair timeline. He has high hopes for Shumpert but doesn't quite see him as ready just yet.

Shumpert is also a big fan of Anthony and even wore his jersey in the music video for his song "Anarchy," featured on his debut mixtape.

When asked by Interview Magazine why he chose to rock No. 7 in the video, Shumpert said the following:

Melo took me under his wing, and he's taught me so much on and off the court. I knew coming into this year, me being hurt and just seeing him work throughout the summer, I knew what type of focus he was in. Me wearing that jersey was just sort of to pay homage to him, 'cause I knew what was coming. We shot that video in the summer, so a lot of people didn't know what was coming this year, as far as his mental focus and how he was in shape and ready for this year. I knew it was gonna be an MVP-style season for him.

Shumpert was absolutely right about Melo's MVP-style season and now it's his turn to deliver and live up to the expectations of his teammate. He certainly has the talent, but it will take the same kind of hard work in the offseason for him to refine his game.

With Shumpert's newfound ability to drain the three, these are two players that could end up fitting together well on offense. Shump is a solid passer who can feed Melo inside, but he can also spread the floor and score off timely cuts when Anthony draws the double-team.

Hopefully, we'll see them start together more often next season, where they'll really have the chance to develop something special. According to Newsday, Woodson isn't 100 percent sure about starting Shumpert, but it's worth seeing how he and Melo can gel together over the course of a full season.

When Will Shumpert Become Melo's "Wingman"?

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At some point down the line, it's highly likely there'll be a clash between Shumpert and the newly re-signed Smith. For now, they can play together, but if Shumpert improves significantly on offense it might be smart to cash in on one of them.

Because of Shumpert's defense and the way he raises his game in the playoffs (not to mention he's younger), it would make sense to keep him on as a building block for the future. At $6 million per year, it should be pretty easy to find a trade partner for Smith, allowing them to bring a contributor at a weaker position and hopefully a draft pick.

The addition of Tim Hardaway Jr. to the mix means the Knicks will have a capable backup for Shumpert if they decide to move Smith, so they should be set long-term at the shooting guard positon.

With that said, Shumpert has already been on the trading block twice in the last two seasons and it appears the franchise doesn't view him in the same light as fans and teammates. It can't be stressed how bad it would be if New York gave away Shumpert for anything less than a blue-chip talent, but with James Dolan at the helm, anything can happen.

Everyone other than Dolan seems to understand that Shumpert is a keeper and we're all hoping he'll have some great times with Melo over the next 5-10 years if they both stick around. Things can change in an instant in the NBA, but with Melo being a hometown kid and Shumpert proving to be passionate about the franchise, these could be the two stars of the show for a long time.

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