Why Iman Shumpert Is Finally Set to Thrive with New York Knicks

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor ISeptember 17, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks in a game against the Golden State Warriors on March 30, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

For a guy who hasn’t been hit with so much as a speeding ticket off the basketball court, Iman Shumpert’s three-year NBA career has been uncommonly tumultuous.

Such as it is with the New York Knicks, a team that’s spent the better part of the last decade orchestrating, and then immediately recovering from, so many a wayward rebuild. That’s made Shumpert—a promising two-way prospect with upside for days—something of a volatile commodity.

But after years of being bandied about in virtually every Knicks-related trade talk and chat-room rumor, Shumpert is finally poised to thrive as a long-term piece in Phil Jackson’s puzzle.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11: President Phil Jackson of the New York Knicks attends the game between the New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks at the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 11, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: Use
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

At least according the New York Post’s Marc Berman, who quotes a source around the time of Jackson’s hiring to the effect that Shumpert was, in fact, part of the long-term plan.

Things could change, of course. After all, there’s seldom such a thing as a sacred cow in professional sports—particularly when the commodity in question stands as one in a logjam of backcourt talents and has just one year remaining before his qualifying offer officially kicks in.

Indeed, as ESPN New York’s Ian Begley writes, Jackson’s praise may have been more about managerial mind games than genuine infatuation:

But Jackson's praise may have served a duel purpose.

The Knicks continued to explore opportunities to trade Shumpert over the summer, according to league sources, so Jackson may have been trying to improve the league-wide perception of his player.

Still, we think Shumpert has an opportunity to make a strong impact this season in the triangle. Tall guards such as Ron Harper have thrived in the offense. Can Shumpert fill the same role?

What Shumpert offers, however, is a skill set nicely suited to the team’s new orientation toward a Carmelo Anthony-centric triangle offense.

Following a season in which the former Georgia Tech standout hit the statistical skids, Shumpert—who just turned 24—is poised for a bounce-back year. Especially from three-point range, where Shumpert will look to approach the 40 percent clip he authored just two seasons ago.

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Operating in a system where quick ball movement trumps superfluous dribbling, Shumpert—who’s struggled somewhat with his ball-handling abilities—is sure to get open looks aplenty. And while he might not be quite the knockdown shooter of a Tim Hardaway Jr., Shumpert’s superior passing and playmaking make him a viable rotational option at both the 2 and the 3.

For his part, Shumpert sees in the triangle the perfect antidote to what’s thus far been something of a stagnant role on offense. Here he is in a recent interview with the New York Post’s Howie Kussoy:

There’s constant action going on. I think I’ll be able to capitalize off that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner. ... I know this year, this offense, I’ll have a lot more opportunities to cut and get to the basket, so I just want to work on the strength in my leg and be able to jump off and be comfortable.

A lot more than standing in the corner.

If that sounds like a veiled swipe at former head coach Mike Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense, well, it probably is.

Derek Fisher, by contrast, is a triangle disciple through and through. And not just any triangle disciple, either. Indeed, if ever there was a player who personified how the offense can maximize what might otherwise be a middling talent, it’s Fisher—an athletically limited but intelligent point guard who became one of Kobe Bryant’s most trusted on-court confidants during the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship run of the early 2000s.

14 Mar 2002:  Head coach Phil Jackson, forward Devean George #3, and several other Los Angeles Lakers huddle during the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at the Arena in Oakland in Oakland, California. The Lakers defeated the Raptors 110-102.\ NO
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Tyronne Lue, Devean George, Sasha Vujacic: Jackson’s career is rife with replacement-level wings who used the triangle to author the best statistical seasons of their careers.

Obviously, Shumpert’s career trajectory is, at this stage of the game, impossible to pinpoint. What’s become increasingly clear, however, is that after three years of injury misfortune and roller-coaster roster dynamics, the Knicks—after nearly 20 years of flabbergasting front-office doings—finally have the look and feel of a genuine basketball incubator.

It remains to be seen how Fisher will manage the multifaceted wing troika of Shumpert, Hardaway and J.R. Smith. Each brings their unique strengths and weaknesses to the table and each, under the right circumstances, could prove potent triangle fits alongside Anthony.

Assuming Jackson’s roster retooling will include more multiplayer deals, there’s a good chance one of the three could be gone by the trade deadline—if only to either reinforce New York’s paper-thin draft-pick stock or further lessen its salary-cap commitments heading into next summer.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 25:  Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks shoots over the hands of Chris Kaman #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Harry How/Getty Images

Should Shumpert survive past the deadline, much will depend on whether (and how many) teams look to test his $3.8 million qualifying offer next summer. Even though Jackson would be able to exceed the salary cap in order to match any offer, the CBA’s prohibitive luxury tax might make him think twice about rolling the dice on what very much remains a risky commodity.

In the meantime, Shumpert will have every opportunity to prove to Jackson and Fisher that last year’s regression was nothing more than an anomaly.

So much of Shumpert’s struggles have been due to factors beyond his control, from the knee injury that sidelined him for the better part of a year to New York’s volatile coaching carousel.

Luckily, the ascendance of Jackson and Fisher portends for the Knicks not only a breath of fresh air but a fair shot as well.

If you're Shumpert, what more could you ask for?

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