Friday, June 24, 2011

What to make of Iman Shumpert?


The Knicks surprised everybody last night by drafting Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert. As an avid college basketball fan and somebody who follows the sport almost religiously, I can honestly say my first reaction was, "What?!? Who?!? The Knicks did it AGAIN!"

While I didn't have the opportunity to catch a Yellow Jacket game this season and know little first-hand about Shumpert, it's obvious that he has great size for a point guard at 6'5''. He's a gifted athlete and his size and length will allow him to guard up to three positions in the NBA.

Replacing the outgoing Donnie Walsh, interim general manager Glen Grunwald said in an interview after the pick that the Knicks wanted to upgrade their defense and they expected Shumpert to help in that regard. The problem with that statement is that the best perimeter defender in the draft went right after the Knicks' pick, with the Wizards drafting Florida State's Chris Singleton.

I understand Singleton is a forward with no jump shot and the Knicks already have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire locked in at the forward positions. But like Shumpert, Singleton has size (6'9'') and the perimeter defensive ability to guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.

Also like Shumpert, Singleton has no jump shot. Although Walsh has claimed Shumpert has improved his shot, I'd like to see it in game action at real-time speed before I make any judgments. Since I admittedly haven't seen Shumpert play, I can't do that now.

The difference between Shumpert and Singleton, and the reason the Knicks likely took Shumpert, is the potential to play the point. Singleton is a better defender but Shumpert can handle the ball. ESPN's Chad Ford said this about Shumpert: "If he can learn to run a team and shoot the ball, he can be a monster in the NBA. But right now, that's a big if. "

It seems the Knicks envision Shumpert as a lock-down defender on the outside and their potential future point guard, especially if Chauncey Billups proves to be the solid mentor he was to Toney Douglas last season. A future Knicks backcourt with Shumpert, Douglas and Landry Fields, assuming the Knicks don't land a big-name point guard, could be an excellent defensive trio.

Singleton wasn't the only player the Knicks passed on that would have filled a need. Morehead State rebounding machine Kenneth Faried was still on the board and went five picks later to Denver at 22.

Faried's boundless energy and tenacious defense was on display in the NCAA tournament, when his block in the final seconds of round one (or do I mean round two?) led to Morehead State's shocking upset of Louisville. But he's only 6'7'' and the Knicks need a center, not a power forward.

Regardless of his ability to rebound and defend, his height was the likely reason the Knicks went with Shumpert. Faried isn't likely to be a starter in the NBA but having him and Stoudemire on the floor would require Stoudemire to defend the opposing center, which isn't something the Knicks wanted.

Speaking of centers, secound-round pick Josh Harrelson is worth a mention. The Knicks traded with Charlotte to get Harrelson, who has size and really stepped his game up in the NCAA Tournament for Kentucky.

This may just be the Syracuse fan in me, but I think the Knicks should give Rick Jackson a look as an undrafted free agent. They worked him out previously and I thought there was a chance they would trade into round two to get him, but they didn't have to.

Jackson is big, strong and knows how to rebound and defend. He improved drastically from his junior year to his senior year and is a hard worker. Those are the players that make it in the NBA at the back of a big-man rotation, and I'd like to see Jackson get a shot.

Overall, my thoughts on New York's draft have fluctuated. At first, it was shock, disbelief and disappointment, mainly because I knew little about Shumpert. As the hours went on and now, a day later, I can understand what the Knicks were thinking. I may not agree with it, but I can understand it.

They didn't pass up any potential superstars, that's for sure. In a weak draft, they picked a player who fills a positional need, a defensive need and has the upside to be a "monster" (Chad Ford's words, not mine). Ford gave the Knicks draft a B- and I'll copy his grade for the moment.

With the draft in the books, the next question becomes: Will there be an NBA season? Charles Barkley says no, while Ric Bucher says a 50-game season is the best-case scenario. The Knicks are rooting for no lockout, as they can't afford to lose a season in the middle of their stars' primes.

A lockout would also put Billups one year closer to retirement and hurt Shumpert and Douglas, as they will have less time on the court to learn from Billups. James Dolan should be one of the NBA owners pushing for a deal although with his history, he'll do the wrong thing. He always does - what would a Knicks article be without a shot at Dolan?

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