The Knicks played a game yesterday...
Now, the old me would spent the next few days dwelling on this loss. Recently, however, I came across a movie that changed my whole perspective on life. It's called The Silver Linings Playbook, and it taught me that if I try my best to find a silver lining in every situation, I will achieve my wildest dreams, namely:
- Being the son of Robert DeNiro.
- Jennifer Lawrence in a sports bra and yoga pants.
Well strap on those yoga pants, Jennifer, cuz I found a silver lining...the play of Iman Shumpert. Since his nervous, turnover-filled performance in Game 1, Shump has played better with each game. He was the Knicks' Swiss Army Knife with a flat-top yesterday (Photoshop, pls), kicking in 12 points, 12 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 steals, 2 blocks and zero turnovers. I don't usually put much stock in single-game +/-, but Shump's team-leading +5 in 44 minutes speaks to what we all witnessed: the Knicks played demonstrably better when he was on the court. He is one of only two Knicks to notch a double-double in the series - the other being Raymond Felton, with 15 points and 10 assists in Game 3.
Until now, we haven't heard much about Shumpert's run of quality play. Honestly, I've seen his name mentioned more frequently on Bulls' blogs, as in: "Why the hell isn't Derrick Rose playing? Iman Shumpert hurt his knee at the same time and he's been back since January!!!" Call me crazy, but I believe Shumpert deserves more credit than simply being known as "the dude who healed faster than Derrick Rose." For one, Shumpert has done more than simply return from his knee injury - he has returned and improved on his pre-injury rookie campaign:
That is a fairly across-the-board improvement - not drastic, mind you, but certainly impressive from a second-year player coming off reconstructive knee surgery, trying to fit into a successful, veteran roster at mid-season.
Furthermore, Shumpert deserves credit for totally revamping his game to fit the Knicks' new style of play. If you popped in a tape of any Knicks game from early in the 2011-12 season, you'd see an Iman Shumpert that bears little resemblance to the Shump of today...and no, I'm not talking about the hair. Rookie Shump was expected to carry a heavy offensive load - through his first 20 games he averaged 11.2 field goal attempts per game with a usage percentage of 20.9% (by comparison, Ray Felton's usage percentage this season was 22.1%). This season, after a few hiccups, Shump has become a model student of what I like to call "The Knicks Way". For those of you who didn't read last week's article, the Knicks Way is the unique brand of ball Mike Woodson has fostered among the Knickerbockers this season. For a guard like Iman Shumpert, the Knicks Way requires you to:
- Shoot the 3.
- Don't turn the ball over.
- Force turnovers.
- Protect the defensive glass.
A few guards have extra responsibilities, like Ray Felton (run the offense, catch fish in the frigid waters of the Antarctic coast) and J.R. Smith (score when the offense breaks down, hit buzzer beaters, lay pipe with extreme prejudice), but that's pretty much it. Knicks guards are expected to be proficient in most of these aspects, and, believe it or not, Iman Shumpert has transformed himself into an above-average guard in every category...all within the span of four months.
Note: Shumpert only played 996 minutes this season. So I set the research criteria for guards who played at least 900 minutes. There are 116 players who qualify.
- Shoot the 3 (.404 3P% - 17th out of 116)
Believe it or not, Shump led all Knicks guards in three-point shooting percentage this season. The only Knicks to shoot the three at a higher percentage were Steve Novak and Chris Copeland, who are both considered forwards. The real question here is, why the hell are they considered forwards - particularly Novak, who doesn't really do anything forward-ly. I consider "Novak" a position unto itself. Copeland showed himself to be a little bit more an actual forward down the stretch - I'd call him a "power novak" or a "novak/forward".
Shump added almost 100 points of three-point shooting percentage this season (.306 in '11/'12). What he didn't do as well this year was finish around the basket, leading to absurd numbers like this:
41.7% shooting in the restricted area (35-for-84)
43.4% shooting for the corner 3 (23-for-53)
Here's hoping Shump works on finishing at the rim in the off-season.
- Don't Turn the Ball Over (11.1 TOV% - 26th out of 116)
Here's another area where we've seen some serious improvement. Last year, Shump's 16.0 turnover percentage was one of the lower marks among qualified guards. Among Knicks guards, Shump's turnover percentage is lower than anyone but J.R. Smith's 8.8%.
- Force Turnovers (2.3 STL% - 29th out of 116)
This is the one area where Shump regressed this season - he was 6th in the NBA last season with a 3.1 steal percentage - but it's still above average. It doesn't quite compare to the top-ten percentages of Jason Kidd (3.3%) and Pablo Prigioni (2.9%). For what it's worth, Shump has a 3.2 steal percentage in this series.
- Protect the Defensive Glass (12.8 DRB% - 17th out of 116)
If you've watched TNT this season, then you've probably heard Charles Barkley offer some of his expert opinions on the Knicks, usually something along the lines of: "Durrrr the Knicks are a turrrible rebounding team, hurp-a-durp!" Chuck is wrong, of course - the Knicks were 4th in team defensive rebounding. They maintained that advantage, despite all the turmoil in the front-court, thanks to their stable of rebounding guards. Shump wasn't even close to the best rebounding guard on the team - J.R. Smith (16.3%) and Jason Kidd (16.2%) were 2nd and 3rd in the NBA in rebound percentage among guards.
To his credit, Shump has really stepped up his rebounding in the playoffs. Let's play a game of "Guess the Knick":
Give up? Knick A is Tyson Chandler, and Knick B is Shump. That's right: identical minutes, identical total rebounding percentage. Part of that is due to Tyson's illness, of course, but the fact that Shump has helped the Knicks keep their rebounding advantage over Boston cannot be understated.
Shump has been far from an All-Star, even in this series. Still, he has made some subtle, but important strides this season, and he's been saving his best basketball for last. Considering all he has been through in the last 12 months, this series should be viewed as a triumph.