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Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers (formerly of the Knicks) speaks with Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks prior to the game at Madison Square Garden on December 13, 2012 in New York City. Iman Shumpert.

Iman Shumpert Is Ready for Non-Contact Practice

Amar'e Stoudemire isn't the only Knick approaching a return from knee injury. Iman Shumpert's return date is likely weeks behind Stoudemire's, but he's also getting there. Marc Berman reported late last night that this weekend, when the Knicks hold their first full practice in weeks, Shumpert will be cleared to participate on a non-contact basis. That presumably means Shumpert can do drills, set walk-throughs, conditioning, and the like, but no scrimmages and NO TOUCHING.

Once Shumpert and his surgically repaired knee ligaments feel comfortable with non-contact practice, they'll step up to scrimmages and so forth. There's even been some talk of a D-League stint. Whatever the course, the Knicks won't rush him back onto the floor and, even once he's activated, will likely start him on a minutes limit.

That said, the Knicks could use some Shump. The 22-year-old is far from a polished offensive player and has much to learn on defense, but he could still make crucial improvements to New York's rotation. To begin with, the man filling Shumpert's role of "mid-size defensive specialist" — Ronnie Brewer — has regressed to previously unexplored depths on offense. It'll all level off at some point, but after a hot start to the season, Brewer's hands have become the place possessions go to die. Again, Shumpert is no offensive dynamo, but he can put the ball on the floor and has hopefully improved his jump shot during the injury layoff. Even without improvement, his shot can't possibly be worse than Brewer's is these days.

Backcourt defense is where New York needs Shumpert most. Knicks fans are getting stir-crazy from watching Raymond Felton (now out for the next month or two, while we're naming reasons the Knicks need Shumpert back), Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni get beat off the dribble over and over and over again. There's not a lick of useful on-ball perimeter defense between the three of them. Shumpert has his struggles as a help defender (Kidd's speciality), but sic him on a talented ball-handler of any size or footspeed, and he'll do his darnedest to haunt the guy. The Knicks need that. Tyson Chandler — often caught guarding both his own man and a loose, fast-approaching dribbler — would be so happy to have that.

So, the Knicks must be patient. Very patient and very, very careful. There's no denying the Shump-shaped hole (it's got a very tall, rectangular upper part) in this Knicks rotation, though, and everyone's looking forward to his return.

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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images