Knicks fans have a plenty of reasons to get excited about Iman Shumpert, but he is not going to be a major difference-maker for New York in the 2012-13 season.
Shumpert displayed boatloads of potential in his rookie campaign. He used his athleticism to play suffocating defense, ranking seventh in the league with 1.71 steals per game.
On the offensive end, Shumpert also showed flashes of brilliance, giving Knicks fans hope that he will emerge as an explosive third scoring option behind Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
It appears as though most of the pieces are in place for a Knicks' playoff run. The frontline is loaded. Raymond Felton is a vast improvement at point guard compared to the motley crew that brought the ball up last season. The only question mark that remains is at shooting guard.
Why is that? Well, there's an easy answer and one that is more difficult to swallow.
These are the facts: Shumpert played 59 games last season, starting 35 of them. Per 82games, he was on the court for New York 53 percent of the time, the majority of which he spent at shooting guard. No Knick played the position as often as Shumpert, who suffered tears to his ACL and lateral meniscus on April 28. His expected recovery time was six to eight months.
The easy answer is the optimistic one. Even if Shumpert misses the first few weeks of the season, New York will get back a shooting guard with All-Star-caliber ability to complete their deeper, stronger team.
Unfortunately, major injuries are rarely that simple. Even after Shumpert returns to the court, he will certainly need some time to acclimate himself with the game again. Going from rehabbing alone to finding his fit within the team will be another hurdle.
If history is any indication, an NBA player recovering from this injury could bounce back in a matter of weeks, or he could be slowed for an entire season.
Of course, this is all wildly speculative right now. Until we see him back in action, we won't know how close he is to his prior level of performance. If we adhere to the sunny outlook on Shumpert's season, he would surely be flying around the court again in time for a playoff run.
But here's the thing Knicks fans might not be able to take: Shumpert probably is not good enough yet to push New York over the top.
That's not meant to cast aspersions over Shumpert's prospects. He has displayed the tools to be a dynamic scorer and an all-NBA defender at some point down the line. Right now, though, only the latter is even remotely in play, as Shumpert is just not an efficient scorer whatsoever.
In his first NBA season, Shumpert took an average of 9.1 shots per game, hitting 3.6 of them. That works out to a shooting percentage of .401, putting him right between the incomparable Nick Young and Jordan Crawford on the NBA leader board. As a further point of comparison, New York's resident volume scorer at shooting guard, J.R. Smith, shot .407 from the field last season.
There are two possibilities why Shumpert's offensive inefficiency isn't a bigger deal. Maybe fans have either been glossed over the issue due to larger frustrations, such Melo's selfishness or Amar'e's issues on and off the court. On the other hand, there could just be a general presumption that a player as skilled as he is will put it together.
Perhaps that's true, but the injury puts a serious damper on that happening next season. In an ideal world, Shumpert would be spending this offseason working on his jumper and learning from his first professional experience. Instead, he's spent all that time rehabbing. In all likelihood, that means Shumpert's offensive game this season will be at the mediocre level it was last season.
Now let's look at defense, where Shumpert is already considered an elite player. What will the Knicks do if he is a step slow defensively?
Enter Ronnie Brewer. The Knicks brought in the vaunted lockdown defender from Chicago this offseason for the veteran's minimum, which is an enormous steal. Brewer could do more than just fill in for Shumpert on the defensive end; he could outplay him.
Let's take a look at the opponent's player efficiency ratings for Shumpert and Brewer.
For all his accolades right out of the gate, Shumpert allowed opposing shooting guards to put up a PER of 16.3. That means the PER of Shumpert's opponents would have ranked 10th in the league among shooting guards, a shockingly high mark for a supposed defensive stopper.
As for Brewer, he stifled shooting guards he faced, holding them to an 11.8 PER last season. Brewer's opponents would have come in at 54th in PER, sandwiched right between Shelvin Mack and Manny Harris. And if that weren't enough to sell you on Brewer, he's also shot .501 from the field in his career.
None of this is to say that Shumpert isn't New York's best shooting guard. He has the combination of abilities to score like Smith and defend (somewhat) like Brewer, and his physical prowess is unparalleled.
However, he won't put it all together next season, and until he does, he won't be the major difference-maker Knicks fans hope he will be.
At the same time, New York has the depth at shooting guard to get by just fine in Shumpert's absence. It might be dangerous for the Knicks to bank on his return, but the good news is they might not have to.