In 31 games for Georgia Tech last year, Iman Shumpert logged 992 total minutes. The Knicks rookie has already eclipsed the game time total from 2010-11 with 1,483 minutes in a truncated NBA season. In fact, Shumpert ranks No. 4 in total minutes played among rookies despite playing six less games than the No. 1 player, Brandon Knight.
New York has relied on the young man from Oak Park, Illinois to suit up at multiple positions, defend the elite players in the league, and fill the offensive gaps with key Knicks missing time throughout the year. Additionally, Shumpert is spending his rookie campaign in the media capital of the world, dealt with a midseason coaching change, the Linsanity era, and the non-stop scrutiny that comes with performing at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Pretty heady stuff.
Shumpert never lacks confidence but he candidly described his experience this season while in a reflective mood prior to a pivotal matchup against the Orlando Magic.
“You just have to be ready for anything,” Shumpert acknowledged. “So much madness happened this year, you just have to stay ready for anything, you can never let any part of your game get down, you have to pay attention to all details. I’ve never dealt with anything quite like it.”
It’s important to note that Shumpert walks with swagger and his bravado permeates on to the basketball floor. His honest comments were refreshing to hear in the midst of his best stretch of the season. The No. 17 overall pick owns the prototypical NBA body at 6-5 and 220 pounds to go along with explosive athleticism. However, the physical attributes are just one aspect to the game as the rookie is quickly learning while the Knicks chase a spot in the postseason.
With sweat dripping down his head and bags of ice strapped to both his knees following a shootaround session, Shumpert explained the arduous task of leaping from college to the NBA.
“Right now I’m just learning on the fly. And, at times it’s obvious. Like I said, I’m not going to make any excuses, make sure I’m well prepared, and whatever coach needs me to do, I’m going to do it,” Shumpert assured.
What’s absolutely clear is Shumpert’s defensive prowess in year one. On the ball, Shumpert is suffocating, utilizing every inch of his long frame to hassle and frustrate the opposition. The 21-year old ranks No. 5 in the NBA in steals per game, joining some top players in the league, including: Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio (out for the season), and LeBron James. Watching Shumpert defend is an absolute treat as his eyes shift from every direction, searching for that split second when he can jump through the passing lane for a momentum altering steal and fast break opportunity.
His play on both ends of the floor has impressed teammate and five-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
“I think he has gotten better and better. As a rookie to ask him to become a point guard, come in and be a defensive stopper, which he has been brilliant at. And, at time times to come in and be a scorer, we ask a lot from him as a rookie but it’s a short season and we’re shorthanded. Everybody has to do multiple things out there. I’ve been very impressed with him this season,” Anthony stated.
According to hoopsstats.com, Shumpert has played 40 games at the shooting guard position and 11 directing the offense at the point guard spot. Mostly an off guard with Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis running the point over the second half of the season, Shumpert has showcased his offensive skill set over his last 10 games. Shumpert has averaged 13.4 points per outing on 44.5 percent shooting from the floor with an underrated perimeter game. He scored 25 in games against Orlando and Atlanta at the end of March and most recently faced the reigning MVP on April 8. In 45 minutes against Derrick Rose, Shumpert registered 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and four steals while spending a significant amount of defending the Bulls all-world point guard.
Rose shared praise for his Eastern Conference foe, “A good guard, I heard a lot about him in high school. In college he played great for Georgia Tech and just a young guard learning the NBA game but you can tell he has a lot of talent. He’s athletic, nice size to him, and should be a good guard.”
Under the tutelage of interim head coach Mike Woodson, who affectionately refers to him as “Rook”, Shumpert will continue to build on his expanding basketball package. With a possible trip to the postseason on the horizon, the former Georgia Tech standout can already see growth from a defensive standpoint.
“Early on in the year, I was getting behind just on the strength of my athleticism. I think now I’m learning more of the reads, where people are comfortable, how we are going to make people uncomfortable,” Shumpert maintained.
He added, “Now that I’ve seen all the different sets in the league and what everybody runs, I’m starting to understand the game a little bit more and getting a lot better with guarding ball screens and communication.”
For a player that was shockingly left out of the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend and passed up by 15 teams in the 2011 NBA Draft, there is plenty of motivation to succeed at the highest level. Shumpert is a pivotal piece and his accelerated education in this rigorous NBA season could launch an extremely successful future in NYC.