The crowd comes to a hush as Commissioner David Stern walks to the podium. Stern smiles slyly and takes in a moment that he knows is among the most nerve-racking in all of sports.
"With the 17th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select..." he says, and then he pauses and looks down at the name on the card in front of him, toying with the "hometown" crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
"Iman Shumpert from Georgia Tech. Iman is not here." This, unsurprisingly to Stern or anyone who has watched the draft on television before, is followed by an all-too-familiar sound: BOOOOOOO. Knicks fans boo the team's pick nearly every year.
Even superfan Spike Lee, when interviewed by ESPN after the pick, gave a tepid reaction. "Well, I never heard of Landry Fields either before we drafted him so, we need defense and I believe in, uh, Donnie Walsh. So that's his pick, gonna go with it. Have no choice."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
At the time, I was not a fan of the pick myself.
I had watched Shumpert for three years at Georgia Tech and seen a player who was not really a point guard and not really a shooting guard.
I saw player who shot a career-high 40.6 shooting percentage in his junior season while also sporting a career-low three point percentage of 27.8; a player who was not the greatest fit for coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.
I remembered back to the previous draft, when Derrick Favors was being touted as a top pick despite subpar numbers because (and I'm generalizing here) his guards stunk and couldn't get him the ball.
I remembered that Shumpert was one of those guards.
The NBA community's reaction was mostly similar to mine.
CBSSports' Matt Moore and Ben Golliver, ESPN's Chad Ford and with NBADraftBlog's Ed Isaacson all gave the Knicks draft a B-, but expressed reservations about the Shumpert pick; SBNation's Tom Ziller gave them a C and also cited the Favors conundrum and Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie Blog gave the Knicks a C+ and spoke of Shumpert's limited ceiling.
In the weeks since, public perception of the Knicks' selection of Shumpert seems to be changing for the better, and in turn, so has mine.
Shumpert was one of the best young players at the Impact Basketball League in Las Vegas over the last two weeks.
The rookie guard impressed many in attendance, and Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick even named Shumpert to his Impact Basketball League All-Star team.
The defense, athleticism and ability to play both guard positions that made him a first-round pick were all on display in Las Vegas, and he produced multiple highlight-reel plays. [Check out the highlights from his Day 3 battle with Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan in the sidebar]
Chauncey Billups told SLAMOnline that he was looking forward to playing with Shumpert and that he is going to try to make him a star.
Billups had even more praise for Shumpert (in the same SLAMOnline article linked above):
“A lot of young guys want to come in and be effective by scoring,” Billups said. “They want to show they have all the nice moves, which is good, you gotta have that in your skill-set, but if you’re talking about playing winning basketball, it’s a little different. Some things are more important than others, and Shumpert’s going to be a good one because he’s able to defend.”
Shumpert's defense will make him a viable contributor for the Knicks right away. New York struggled mightily defending the perimeter last season and Shumpert is an immediate improvement over the Knicks' other guards on that side of the floor.
The Knicks guards let Rajon Rondo penetrate the lane and run circles around them in the playoffs, and he torched them to the tune of 76 points, 29 rebounds and 48 assists in four games. Shumpert's main responsibility early in his career will be to curb the production of guards like Rondo and Derrick Rose.
STAT and Melo will shoulder much of the scoring load, and Shumpert will really only be called on to play good defense, run the floor, get the team into their offensive sets and feed the ball to the open man.
Shumpert will never be asked to be a star or a high-volume scorer because he is on a team that already has Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
If Iman can develop a consistently reliable jump shot in addition to the play-making abilities he flashed in his first two years at Georgia Tech, he'll have a spot in the league for a long time.
Mike D'Antoni had been reluctant to play rookies in the past, but he made an exception this past year with Landry Fields, because he recognized the contribution he could make to the team.
D'Antoni should make the same exception for Shumpert this year, because it seems like he already has at least one NBA-level skill and the potential to develop into a very effective player if given the opportunity.