New York Knicks Have Aced Handling Of X-Factor Iman Shumpert

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On a team featuring one of the league’s best scorers in Carmelo Anthony, a former Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in J.R. Smith, and a future first ballot Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd, it was the kid that Coach Woodson still calls “Rook” that stepped up to help bury the Celtics. To get by Indiana, New York will need more of the same from Iman Shumpert.

It is hard for New Yorkers to grasp most of the time, but patience is ever so key during the grind known as the NBA season. Knicks management could have went any one of a thousand different directions when assembling this roster during Iman Shumpert’s recovery from an ACL tear, but the patience they exhibited deserves all the credit in the world.

It all started last summer, when the apparent goal was to put together a win now team. At this point in time, we all thought that Shumpert and Jeremy Lin were the backcourt of the future, but only the strongest survived. The Knicks were the frontrunner to land Steve Nash upon Shump’s inclusion, but GM Glen Grunwald refused to pull the trigger despite knowing it might be a year before the rookie would see the floor again. Sure the offense would have run a heck of a lot smoother with Nash at the helm, but selling Shumpert at his absolute lowest value would have been foolish.

So Shumpert made it to the opening night roster, and even returned from his surgery in mid-January, miles ahead of standard pace, and lightyears ahead of Derrick Rose. However, an inability to hit the ground running as well as an extensive minute limitation blocked most fan’s memories of his rookie success. When he wasn’t productive right away, New York City became frustrated and a new set of trade whispers were brought to the forefront. Phoenix was interested once again (maybe they should have just drafted him in 2011 instead of Markieff Morris!), offering Jared Dudley and a first round pick. Sure the lottery pick would have been nice, but the difference from Shumpert to Dudley on the defensive end is night and day. Sticking with the win now theme, Grunwald shot down every offer he received. While Shump may have been a little wet behind the ears, he was still by far the best perimeter defender on the roster, and in the conversation among the league’s elite.

In 45 regular season games, Shumpert averaged only 22 minutes a night. We all knew he would be brought along slowly, but his sporadic playing time showed a decline in his defense and a jump shot that looked flatter than his haircut. Now that the dust has settled, it’s obvious that the plan was to let him loose in the playoffs, and once again the Knicks nailed it. All of a sudden, Shump has regained his stroke and become one of the league most feared perimeter defenders. If Paul Pierce  is already a shell of his former self, Shumpert’s defense made him out to be a shell of that shell (did everyone follow that?). Pierce shot just 36.8 percent from the field in six playoff games against New York, by far the lowest total of his career. The Knicks defense was at it’s best when Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni were locking down the back court.

Against the Pacers, the task will be equally difficult for Shumpert. Paul George has one of the NBA’s brightest futures, and his size, athleticism, and versatility makes him one of the toughest covers in the league. Still, Shump seems to be hitting his stride at the most opportune time on the basketball calendar. There are more than enough scorers and interior defenders to get the job done for New York, but without Shump’s perimeter D, the Knicks aren’t going anywhere. In Rook we trust.

PREDICTIONS

After judging my First Round picks, by no means am I recommending for anyone to take these picks to Vegas, but at least I have the Warriors to hang my hat on.

The Heat are going to steamroll regardless of opponent. While the Bulls and Nets have been duking it for an opportunity to be fed to the wolves, Miami has had their feet up on the couch taking in all the action. If it’s Brooklyn that wins tonight, the Heat sweep, but I think the Bulls push it all the way to five games. And by “Bulls” I mean Tom Thibodeau.

I’ve been confident in the Knicks inevitable playoff matchup with Indiana throughout the regular season, and despite feeling less now that the time to put the gloves on is here, I’m still sticking by my guns. New York is a deeper, more complete team than Indiana and should be able to handle them in six, but that’s why they play the games.

The non-Knicks series that I’m looking forward to most is Spurs-Warriors. Golden State is bound to get beat by a more experienced and battle tested playoff team, but Mark Jackson’s mental toughness has clearly rubbed off on the rest of that team. To me, Steph Curry vs. Tony Parker is by far the most intriguing positional matchup of the postseason so far, but despite Curry’s never-ending motor and magical stroke from three, San Antonio will take it in five.

Memphis and Oklahoma City is the toughest to predict. Although the loss of Russell Westbrook makes it harder for Kevin Durant to take over a game, the Thunder are still rock solid defensively and I’ve been high on Reggie Jackson since his coming out party in the Summer League. Still, Memphis’s size and depth will give OKC fits and despite all of Westbrook’s doubters, they do indeed need him to win games. The Grizzlies will take it in six.

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