How hard will the Knicks lean on Iman Shumpert?

Iman Shumpert. (NBA.com)
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The return of Iman Shumpert to the Knicks is merely days away.

Assuming nothing goes wrong during Wednesday practice in London, the Knicks will take the floor on Thursday afternoon against the Detroit Pistons with Shumpert available for the first time since last spring. He has been recovering from a torn ligament.

They'll be delighted to have him back.

Shumpert, during his rookie year, was an inconsistent scorer, but an elite defender capable of handling opposing point guards, shooting guards and even small forwards.

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The Knicks' most obvious defensive weakness is their inability to cope with quick, penetrating opposing guards. This is true whether Raymond Felton, who is not particularly good in that respect, is playing or not. Shumpert is their only stopper.

Shumpert's presence within the offense is also important. His ability to slot into the small forward spot at the start of games should allow the Knicks to use Jason Kidd as shooting guard, Pablo Prigioni (and Felton, when he returns) at point guard, and most important, Carmelo Anthony in the power forward spot where he played with such success early this season.

Until Felton returns, some spot duty for Shumpert at point guard will allow the Knicks to both shift Kidd to more time at shooting guard, and limit Kidd's minutes in general, something vital for the 39-year-old both in his short-term effectiveness and long-term viability.

If all of this sounds like a lot to ask of a player less than a year removed from knee surgery, it is. But other recoveries from A.C.L. tears in recent years offer plenty of reasons for optimism.

Jamal Crawford, for instance, tore his A.C.L. in April 2001. (Shumpert's injury occured in April 2012.) Crawford managed to make his season debut just six months later, in October 2001. Over his first two months back, he played just 17 minutes per game, and his overall effectiveness was down considerably from past seasons.

But Crawford's minutes took off in January, and so did his play. By April, he was shooting and creating better than he had before the injury, averaging 34 minutes per game.

Guards like Baron Davis and Kyle Lowry enjoyed excellent post-A.C.L.-tear careers, along with forwards like Al Harrington and Bonzi Wells. The recovery rate is more in line with pitchers recovering from Tommy John Surgery than say, a torm labrum in the shoulder.

The Knicks will have to find the right balance between their immediate on-court needs and longer-term concerns about Shumpert's health. It's not about January now; it's about May and June.

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