Before we praise Iman Shumpert for what might have been the breakthrough game of his young NBA career, let us take a moment to remember the beginning, when he was at his worst. Let's hark back to consecutive games on January 11 and 12 against Philadelphia and Memphis, respectively. This was back in the pre–Lin days, when the Knicks were trying to force Shumpert and Toney Douglas into point guard situations they clearly weren't ready for. Shumpert was ten-for-35 shooting in those two games, including one-for-ten from three-point range. He looked like J.R. Smith does at his worst. It was easy to understand why Georgia Tech fans were driven so crazy by him. This guy was a chucker.
Of course, when you look at that January Knicks team now and its wretched guard play, it's easier to understand why Shumpert went so crazy shooting: Somebody had to. Also, they were Shumpert's seventh and eighth games of his career. He's a different player now. He's a terrific one.
We saw all of Shumpert's brilliance on display during that wild 100-99 win over the Bulls on Sunday, particularly on the defensive end, when he pestered and niggled Derrick Rose — a fellow Chicago native — in a way that few defensive players have been able to — ever. Rose still had a halfway decent game — though he was only two-for-ten with Shump guarding him — but you have to think he's not particularly thrilled to have to be guarded by that guy his first two games back from injury.
But Shumpert has been an outstanding defensive player all season. Of late, though, his offense is picking up. It's not matching his defense — he'd have to be Carmelo–level to do that — but it's not a net-zero. Considering Shumpert is a plus-player even if he's contributing nothing on offense, the Knicks might have a potential star on their hands.
The key to Shumpert's surge on the offense end has been the cut in his turnovers. During the Bulls game, he scored fifteen points, grabbed nine rebounds, and dished out six assists and had only one turnover. He had only one turnover in the win over Orlando as well. Now, turnovers were never going to stack as much with Shumpert as they did with Jeremy Lin back in the day; Shumpert isn't that inherently involved in the offense. (In the fourth quarter, Shumpert's offensive role was largely "dribble the ball up court, give it to Carmelo, and prepare for a rebound.") But considering how spectacular he can be, avoiding turnovers is the major gaping hole in his game.
Well, he still needs to shoot a little better: He's at 30 percent from the three-point line this year. That's gotta go up. But shooting ... shooting you can work on. You can't work on this:
You can only just do that. And Shumpert can.
Shumpert was the seventeenth overall pick in the draft this year, behind players like Jonas Valanciunas and Jan Vesely and Brandon Knight. It's possible he's one of the top-five rookies in the league right now. (ESPN's Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti has him eighth, putting him that low solely because of his turnovers. UPDATE: Since we posted this, Pruiti has done another set of rankings; Shump's sixth now.) The Knicks have had all sorts of troubles over the last few years, but one thing they've been good at is the draft: In the last three years, at picks seventeen, 29, 39, and 45, they've come up with four rotation regulars (Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, and Josh Harrellson; let's ignore Jordan Hill for a moment). Shumpert might end up being the ultimate prize out of this. When Shump and Tyson Chandler are on the court at the same time, the Knicks have two of the best defenders in the NBA. Now that Shump is starting to get it on the offensive end? At the age of 21? Look out.