New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert is expected by many to make some serious strides over the next few years, but little has been made of what effect that could have on the rest of the team, particularly in regards to J.R. Smith.
While it's great to have quality depth at every position, if Shumpert can make significant improvements on offense, the team will no longer be reliant on Smith's erratic scoring and instead will be free to explore trading him for an upgrade elsewhere on the court.
Finding sufficient playing time for both guards was relatively simple with Shumpert coming off an ACL tear, but as he continues to progress he'll need more and more minutes at the 2.
Considering the success New York has had with the dual-point guard offense, it will be even more difficult to fit both players in while also using Pablo Prigioni and new addition Beno Udrih off the ball alongside Raymond Felton. Last year, Mike Woodson solved the problem by moving Shump to small forward, but after watching him struggle to guard bigger players, that won't be a viable option if the team wants to make his development a priority.
Having No. 24 overall pick Tim Hardaway Jr. in the mix won't necessarily force New York to adjust its rotation, but if he can prove himself to be a capable offensive player off the bench, that will only help to make J.R. expendable.
Of course, all this hinges on Shumpert becoming a consistent double-digit scorer and a top-10 shooting guard in the NBA, but at times last year he showed flashes of being that kind of player.
Defensively, Shumpert has been a stud from day one, but in 2012-13 he expanded his offensive game, becoming an efficient shooter from beyond the arc. He shot 40 percent from three during the season, spreading the floor for Carmelo Anthony and consistently finding open shots on the perimeter.
Coming back from such a serious injury, the rest of Shump's offensive game was pretty weak—particularly when it came to shooting off the dribble and getting to the rim. As we saw in the playoffs, however, that should improve as he gets more comfortable with his surgically repaired knee.
Shumpert is still an elite athlete, and now that he's back at 100 percent, he should return to being the aggressive player he was attacking the basket in his rookie season.
Beyond that, Shumpert needs to work on his handles and mid-range game—which, again, have looked solid at times—and knowing how much of a hard-worker he is there's no doubt he'll come into camp having worked on both.
Smith is still the better offensive player.
Scoring has always come naturally to him. But if Shumpert can beat him in turns of shot selection, he should have the edge as an overall player. After all, Shumpert already has the edge in terms of defense and passing.
Still, trading J.R. will only be worthwhile if the Knicks get something significant in return, but on such a team-friendly contract he should bring back a decent package. In an ideal world, New York would pick up a quality back-up for Tyson Chandler or another tough wing defender while also adding a first-round pick to make up for all the picks they've given up over the years.
New York will have to wait until January if it wants to trade Smith, which gives the team plenty of time to showcase him and—more importantly—see if the offense can function well without him. The Knicks will be missing him due to injury and suspension to start the season, but if Shumpert proves he's capable of replicating his scoring in those 5-plus games, it will open the door for a potential trade.
The Knicks won't end up in a position where they absolutely have to trade J.R.—there's no such thing as too much depth, especially when it comes at a good price. But if Shumpert becomes the player many of us think he can be, that may just be the best move for the franchise.
If nothing else, an improved Shumpert will give the Knicks flexibility.
They'll be capable of fielding a team stacked at the off-guard position or using some of the talent to get deeper elsewhere, but either way, it's a good situation to be in.