What’s This We Hear About Iman Shumpert Playing Point Guard?

As the focus around New York Knicks basketball is quickly shifting from a disappointing 2013 to “now what?” in 2014, let us take a breather from the Knick-less NBA Conference Finals to discuss our promising young friend, Iman Shumpert, and his future. Late last week, ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling tweeted that the team could be using Shumpert at point guard some next season, and he’ll be working to improve his skills there this summer.

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With one or both of Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd possibly walking away from New York before next year, the Knicks definitely have a need at the point guard position behind Raymond Felton. After watching Shumpert used almost exclusively as a wing in 2013, Zwerling’s tweets came as a bit of a shock. But the news isn’t completely out of nowhere.

You may have forgotten, and good for you if you did, but it was our 21-year-old Shump who temporarily saved the Knicks’ Toney-Douglas-poisoned point guard position in the extremely panicky pre-Linsanity days of 2012.  It was exceptionally cool beans at the time, because we were all used to Toney Douglas’ beans, which got all stiff and turnover-prone once the shot clock hit 20. But it was short-lived because, well, Shump really isn’t a point guard.

Let’s start with the good. In one-and-a-half NBA years, Shumpert has shown he’s a good passer, which, you know, is a good point-guard thing. Here’s a small playlist of moments from our friend’s short incumbency at the point in ’12, primarily feeding big guys in the post through traffic. (Here’s a bigger playlist of our friend Shump rapping rap songs. Both make me happy.)

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It’s also worth noting that each and every one of the above defenses were absolutely brutal, but you can see some playmaking ability is there.

Some more good point-guard things Shump brings to the table is defense. He’s really good at that, which THANK GOD BECAUSE THE REST OF THE TEAM HAS NO IDEA WHAT THE F—sorry. Anyway, Shumpert can and has thrown the proverbial CLAMPS on opposing ball-handlers. So him playing the 1 would make things much more convenient, since he occasionally cross-matches onto the opposing point guard anyway.

The Knicks’ point gig is unique in that in addition to being on the dishing end of drive-and-kicks (more on that in a sec), 1s are often catch-and-shoot three options as well. With Carmelo Anthony often drawing multiple defenders in the post, the Knicks’ lead scorer is usually able to kick to open shooters for three opportunities. Felton, Kidd, and Prigioni all benefited from this at times in 2012-13, and Shump’s recent prosperity from beyond the arc leads you to believe that he could fair similarly.

Now to the bad, which is sad to talk about because Shump’s our friend. The truth is that he doesn’t really do many things well that point guards need to do well. He’s indecisive when he’s in charge of things, which kind of makes sense since he’s still 22, but it’s not a trait you want from the quarterback of your offense. He got away with a lot of the shakiness in 2013 since he was primarily stashed away in the corners and relied on as a spot-up three-point shooter, which worked out just fine. But there were moments that hesitations on simple open looks costed the Knicks points.

As a point man though, our friend would need to improve his handle, because that’s another weakness in his game right now. Nobody needs him to suddenly morph into a tall-haired Kyrie Irving (although that’d be welcomed) but we’d need some improvement if Shump is going to be the one dribbling most of the time—which made me feel uneasy just typing out.

We know that our friend loves to do cool slam dunks—and sometimes get taunting technicals for mean mugging Kevin Garnett afterward—but sadly that’s more of the dessert than the meat and potatoes. The main course of Shump attempts at the rim are missed dunks and layups, which are bad from every position but inexcusable from your 1—opposing defenses ideally have to respect the drive, leading to other outside opportunities.

According to NBA.com, Shumpert shot below 42 percent from inside five feet last season, which definitely isn’t good. In fact, his field-goal percentage from inside the restricted area was identical to his clip from the left corner. At this point it doesn’t seem like Shumpert is a strong enough finisher to run significant time at the point, but that could very well change with some offseason reps and general NBA experience.

When Shumpert was first drafted, I personally thought he would be a good combo guard that couldn’t really shoot but might be an option at point guard. Two years later, our friend has developed a sweet three-point stroke, but hasn’t exactly shown much to prove that he can run an offense. That’s alright though, because it looks like he could be on track to become one of basketball’s best 3/D wings, which was certainly a weird plot twist but we’re all rolling with it.

Shumpert has holes in his game, which, again, he’s 22. Most of his weaknesses align with skills specific to point guards. So if this all means that Shump is going to work to improve his flaws, then it seems to make sense. If Shumpert improves his awareness, handles, and finishing ability–his weak points and critical point guard attributes–then it sounds to me like he can run some point. But based off Mike Woodson’s 2012-13 tendencies, Shumpert’s game is best suited at a wing as a scoring threat, while two ball-moving point guards share the backcourt.

As of right now, Shump is obviously not well equipped to run the offense on a team that’s supposed to contend for a title—which is probably why Knicks Twitter had a mini-meltdown when Zwerling tweeted his tweets. But I think the general idea here is for Shump to become a better, more complete basketball player first, and whatever new capabilities (e.g. playing some point) he brings with those improvements makes everybody happy.

Keep shumpin’, Shump. You became a 40-percent three-point shooter this year, which seemed about as likely as me becoming one. So if you say you’re gonna be a point guard now too, I don’t feel all that comfortable doubting you.

*Shump walks away*

Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6.