Iman Shumpert: Where Do His Minutes Come From?

Many teams are fortunate to have an incredible starting 5, perhaps a strong 6th and 7th man, and even no-name players to take minutes and allow the starters to rest. They might chip in a little bit here or there, but aside from the San Antonio Spurs’ JV team—the one that can just about beat the Miami Heat—teams are not likely to have the problem that the New York Knicks have.

Unlike the teams above, where the coach has to worry more about how many minutes his players are playing so they don’t get injured, Mike Woodson has to worry about how he’s going to get all his players, many of whom are vets, into the game.

We start with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler. JR Smith and Rasheed Wallace are typically first off the bench. Soon after that, Steve Novak comes in with some Pablo Prigioni sprinkled on top. In some cases we might see Kurt Thomas get some 1990s-era grind (when you were allowed to be physical).

We see ten players getting onto the court. Marcus Camby, a Defensive Player of the Year, doesn’t play. Chris Copeland and James White get garbage minutes. That leaves two players who are unaccounted for: Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert.

According to sources close to Amar’e Stoudemire, the forward is willing to come off the bench. That’s great, but we know he’s going to get a ton of minutes because he’s a superstar.

This leaves me with one real big question: Where does Iman Shumpert fit in when he returns in January?

Last year Shumpert was, without a doubt, my favorite player on the Knicks. He was a defensive juggernaut who brought a level of intensity to the game that would make Chandler proud. It was truly disappointing when he went down with a torn ACL, an injury that has kept him out ever since the first game of last season’s playoffs.

I was reading Tommy Dee’s article yesterday on The Knicks Blog and he went to the obvious solution: Take the minutes away from Ronnie Brewer. "But," he says, "let’s face it: Brewer has been outstanding thus far this year."

Dee’s right. If this were any other year you’d take Brewer out in favor of Shumpert because of Shumpert’s upside. But Brewer is shooting 46% from the field, scoring 8.0 points per game, and grabbing 4.2 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game. He’s also doing his job on the defensive end, which is why he was brought in. What’s more, Brewer is knocking down the corner-3, something he has never done before. Overall, the idea of Brewer losing his minutes isn’t ideal because, if you compare his minutes to the Knicks’ four losses, a decrease in time for Brewer does correlate to losses (he couldn’t play in the OT loss to the Nets).

You could argue that Jason Kidd and Steve Novak could both provide minutes. And that’s not too hard to imagine. Since Kidd is 40 I’m sure he’d appreciate the decrease in minutes. And since Novak is a defensive liability, having Shumpert’s aggressiveness on that side of the court would be welcome.

But there’s only one problem: Kidd and Novak are hitting from downtown at an incredible rate. Shumpert, on the other hand, isn’t that good of a 3P shooter. Then again, neither is Brewer and he’s hitting them over 40% of the time, which is a testament to Shooting Coach Hopla.

Interestingly, Hopla has been working with Shumpert for the past few months to help him master his shot. What Hopla determined was that Shumpert’s shooting stroke was just fine—unlike Brewer’s—but that he was elevating far too much. If Hopla has been able to help Shumpert correct this, you’ve got that guy who can hit the 3P repeatedly.

I am skeptical of anyone coming in and messing up the flow of what the Knicks are playing with right now. But, at the same time, I understand what type of team they have: An old one. Jason Kidd could do with rest every two or three games. Rasheed Wallace can’t play a lot. Pablo Prigioni is 35 years old. If the mentality is to play well into June the Knicks are going to need all of their players healthy and rest is how you get there.

If Iman Shumpert comes back, gets some grind, and proves that he is as lethal as he was on defense last year, then combined with this year’s incredible offense, I have a hard time not seeing him playing in games. If that means players get even more decreased minutes, I’m okay with that. There’s only one thing for certain: Coach Woodson has a lot of work ahead of him to get everyone playing time.

Jacob Donnelly, NYC,

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