What does Mike Woodson have against Iman Shumpert?
It is worth wondering exactly what Iman Shumpert needs to do to impress Knicks coach Mike Woodson.
Shumpert has several skills that would make him immensely valuable to any team, but particularly to a Knicks team on which those skills are unique. Whether it's his exemplary on-ball defending, his accuracy from three-point range, or even his raw athleticism, the Knicks are in short supply.
Nor is work ethic a problem: Shumpert fought through a major knee surgery to return in the middle of last season, and by the playoffs was arguably the team's most important player after Carmelo Anthony. In an elimination game, it was Shumpert's burst of scoring that brought the moribund offense back, and nearly helped the Knicks beat the Pacers on the road.
So it is striking to see Woodson continue to keep Shumpert on the bench for nebulous reasons, or to say that his effort alone is what separates him from other young players like Toure Murry and C.J. Leslie, both of whom are undrafted free agents with a fraction of Shumpert's skills, and who might not even make the team.
“Iman plays hard. That’s the thing that’s kept him on the floor," Woodson said. "He’s just got to figure out—[what] we’ve got to help him figure out—is his game that coincides with what we want to do."
Well, let's review what some of those things might be.
The Knicks want a three-point shooter on the floor to help spread things out and give Carmelo Anthony more room to operate. Andrea Bargnani, this summer's addition, is supposed to be that guy. He shot 30.9 percent from three last season, 29.6 percent the year before, while battling injuries. Shumpert returned from knee surgery and checked in at 40.6 percent.
Incidentally, Shumpert as a traditional three also allows Anthony to play power forward, where he is more effective. Utilizing their best player at his ideal position is probably something that should coincide with what the Knicks want to do.
Here's Woodson, diagnosing Shumpert's flaws.
“He’s got to be able to play pick-and-roll offense. He’s got to be able to run the team with the ball in his hands because our ones, twos and threes handle the basketball."
Accordingly, Woodson has yet to say whether Shumpert or J.R. Smith will be his starting shooting guard. He's made it a competition. Shumpert went out against the Celtics, off the bench, and hit all seven of his shots, including three three-pointers, running the pick-and-roll offense well with the second unit. Then he got benched again. His competitor, Smith, is out for the preseason due to knee surgery.
Of course, the two are entirely different players. Something Smith does extremely well is handle the basketball, logging a turnover percentage among the best in the league. Shumpert is more of a spot-up shooter, and capable defender of small forwards. They are, in fact, extremely complementary players, and could easily work in tandem on the floor.
Alternatively, Shumpert could start at small forward, with Smith coming off the bench in a role that allowed him to excel last year, and Shumpert's ball handling skills could be augmented instead by a two-point guard set of Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, a lineup that succeeded wildly last season.
"Defensively he’s got to start being more solid and not so overaggressive that he gets beat," Woodson continued. "So there are some things he’s got to clean up, too. He’s still a young player, there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve got to help him get there quickly. That’s the name of the game.’’
I mean, this last statement is borderline breathtaking. Could Shumpert improve? Conceivably, and he probably will, since he's gotten considerably better since entering the league. But we're really talking about him losing playing time here to Bargnani, who is one of the lesser defenders in the league, and Smith, whose ability to get beaten on overly-aggressive on-ball defending negates much of his defensive value from forcing turnovers.
Put another way: the very things Woodson wants Shumpert to get better at are things that the veterans he'd use in Shumpert's place cannot do.
Or as newly-acquired Metta World Peace, a man who recognizes defensive effort and skill, sees it, according to the Post: "Shumpert does have an admirer in Metta World Peace, who said he’d never played alongside a player who defended the way he himself did—until Shumpert."
That's another way Shumpert differs from the undrafted free agents Woodson continues to group him with.
What does the coach know that everyone else doesn't?