Iman Shumpert Will Change the Defensive Culture of the New York Knicks

Joey RotunnoCorrespondent IINovember 22, 2011

Iman Shumpert was a relative unknown when New York selected him 17th overall, but he's ready to prove he's worthy.
Iman Shumpert was a relative unknown when New York selected him 17th overall, but he's ready to prove he's worthy.

If you’ve been reading Iman Shumpert’s New York Post-sponsored diary, not a single entry goes by where the New York Knicks’ first-round draft pick ceases to express his impatience with the lockout. The other recurring theme in his weekly blog revolves around his dedication to the game and rigorous practice routine.

Shumpert seldom takes a day off for leisure, and when he does, it’s typically just a quick weekend getaway in which he still manages to incorporate a charity pick-up game with fellow NBAers.

It’s painstakingly obvious that this freshman has no intentions of following the conventional path of riding the pine like so many of his predecessors during their rookie seasons in New York. Shumpert is hell-bent on becoming a contributor from day one, and while he realizes he won’t be starting, joining the regular rotation as a key reserve is entirely feasible.

Not known for raining jumpers or his passing adeptness, Shumpert possesses the intangibles that lie dormant in so many of today’s players. Former club president Donnie Walsh recognized the defensive prowess, hustle play and a burning desire to be great—traits that made Shumpert too valuable to overlook on draft night.

While New York has taken a step in the right direction by acquiring defensive-minded players such as Toney Douglas and Landry Fields over the past couple of years, defense remains the Knicks’ Achilles heel.

With the team’s leaders—Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups—all failing to set a positive example on the defensive side of the ball, convincing the team to take pride in shutting down the opposition has been a lost cause.

Shumpert has an opportunity to change that. Sometimes, all it takes is for the new guy to come along and shake things up a bit.

With Mike Woodson the yin to Mike D’Antoni’s yang, the presence of a new attitude will be unmistakable when training camp begins.

The old adage claims that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So, forcing offensive stalwarts like Stoudemire and Anthony to put forth just as much effort and focus on defense could be met with resistance.

On the other hand, Shumpert exhibits the charisma and heart, combined with off-the-charts athleticism, which just might be enough to convince the veterans to take notice.

For an unheralded first-year player out of Georgia Tech to make that sort of impact on superstars, especially those who have long since been set in their ways, is easier said than done. But Shumpert retains the tools to help shift the franchise’s offensive-defensive imbalance back towards equilibrium.

As is customary during preseason, newbies and bench players are given ample time to shine, enabling the coaching staff to assess unknown talent and keep the primary players healthy in preparation for the regular season.

All it takes is a couple of pickpocket steals and subsequent sky-high windmill slams on the fast break for Shumpert to open his teammates' eyes during an exhibition game.

To envision a middle first-round draft pick having an immediate influence over elite teammates sounds egregious, but all professional athletes are blessed with the spirit of competition, and Shumpert has the ability to invoke this competitive nature in others.

Shumpert’s ball-hawk style will lead to easy buckets for himself and his teammates. Not to be eclipsed by the rookie, the veterans’ mentality will be of the notion that if Shumpert can do it, there’s no reason they can’t, too. It’s a simple case of reverse psychology.

Billups and Fields will especially feel Shumpert’s presence due to the fact he is a combo guard, capable of playing both of their respective positions, as well as a superior defender.

Last season, Billups battled injuries and rarely looked comfortable, while Fields often appeared lost in the flow after Anthony’s arrival. In a sense, each man has something to prove and will have to watch his back, since it is very plausible that they will be losing minutes to Shumpert.

The more on-court visibility Shumpert has on a nightly basis, the more profound effect he’ll have on his running mates; hard-nosed defense, aggressiveness and hustle are contagious on the hardwood, and everyone will take their games to a higher level as a result.

Before you know it, Anthony will be hiking up his shorts and smacking the floor in an imposing defensive stance, as if to say, “Bring it! You don’t want none of this!” Now, wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?

With Iman Shumpert in the fold, this unfathomable concept could become a realization.