The Pros and Cons of Trading Iman Shumpert
“Young guys aren’t winning an NBA title.’’ – Mike Woodson
Head Coach Mike Woodson and GM Glen Grunwald, seated next to each other on the dais, were the first two members of the organization presented to the assembled media for questioning on media day back in early October. Both men were well aware they would be asked about the age of their roster. Sure enough, one of the first questions was directed at Woodson, inquiring how he felt about the influx of veterans (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Pablo Prigioni, Rasheed, Wallace, Kurt Thomas, et al) Grunwald had brought to New York over the course of the previous offseason.
“Young guys aren’t winning an NBA title,” replied Woodson. “To add veteran guys who are defensive-minded, battle-tested, that have won, will be huge as we try to win the NBA title.”
Grunwald’s response to a comparable question was very similar in tone and intention. “We think we’re not old, but we’re more experienced and better,’’ Grunwald said. “You mention the age of our team, the team that won the championship a couple of years ago was over 30. We have excellent veterans… We felt we needed veteran guys around those guys (Melo, Amar’e, and Chandler). There aren’t young teams winning NBA titles.”
This was the backdrop to the Knicks 2012-13 campaign. The Knickerbockers front office had made a carefully calculated decision to push all their chips into the middle of the table. They adhered themselves to a “win now” philosophy. Two superstars, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, both firmly in their prime would be the foundation. They would be surrounded by a cast of established veterans who were ready and in position to transform the Knicks into legitimate contenders immediately. Other saw “the oldest team in NBA history;” Woody and Grunwald envisioned a team that was primed and ready to compete at the highest level.
As a result, this team, as currently constituted, has a relatively small window to win.
The following players are signed to contracts which are set to expire following the 2014-15 season: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd.
In fact, the only player on the entire roster who has guaranteed money coming to them past 2015 is Steve Novak, whose deal runs out the following year.
The organization, from the top down, was convinced this was the best way to build a winner in New York. Focus on the present and take your best shot right now.
The Knicks did their best to prove Woodson and Grunwald prophetic by storming out of the gates at the start of the regular season. New York had compiled a 19-6 record by mid-December, which qualified as the third best start in franchise history. The other two occasions in which the Knicks won at least 19 of their first 25 games was during the 1969-70 and 1972-73 campaigns; both of those seasons ended with the Knicks capturing an NBA championship (the only two titles the franchise has ever won).
However, the early season success stagnated shortly thereafter. The Knicks still possess an undeniably impressive 32-17 overall record, the second best overall mark in the Eastern Conference. Still, some weaknesses have been exposed, and the Knicks appear to be regressing in some significant ways. And even their sterling record isn’t as exciting when you pop the hood and get a closer look. New York has benefited from the second-easiest schedule over the season’s first half. It’s been over two months now since the Knicks went on the road and beat a team with a winning record (their last such road win was against the Nets in Brooklyn on December 11th). Over the past five weeks, dating back to early January, New York has only beaten two teams with winning records (the Bucks and the Haws, both at MSG).
The schedule evens out and gets much tougher in March, which will present a flock of tough opponents, mostly away from the comfy confines of Madison Square Garden
Nonetheless, the Knickerbockers still have championship aspirations, as well they should. Any time a team has the fifth most wins in the NBA at the All-Star break, they can and will always take themselves quite seriously.
Yet, in order for the Knicks to be considered legit contenders for the crown, they need to improve. Now, that can either come from inside the organization; such as coaching changes that spark superior results or in-house personnel improvements (a previously struggling/injured player returning to form). The other way to potentially get better would be to make move.
This brings us to the fast-approaching trade deadline.
Iman Shumpert sticks out like a sore thumb in New York. And it’s not because of his old-school flat-top haircut. On a team teeming with veterans that are all either in the peak of their prime or on the downside of a prominent career, Shumpert is but a “precarious neophyte,” as MSG analyst and icon Walt “Clyde” Frazier might say.
At just 22 years of age, Iman Shumpert is by far the Knicks’ youngest player. In fact, he is the only player on the roster that has yet to celebrate his 27th birthday. He is also the only player who has yet to scratch the surface of his true talent. However, the difficult question that begs to be answered is: “How high is his ceiling?”
Not much can or should be read into the three-plus weeks worth of game tape available on Shumpert since his recent to the lineup. He has obviously struggled since returning from ACL surgery. Through the 11 games he’s played this season, he is averaging 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 19 minutes. Shumpert’s a player that has always relied on his immense, jaw-dropping athleticism, and it is clear from watching him this winter that he doesn’t fully trust his knee yet. As a result, his confidence is sagging, which reflects directly on his performance. Now that trade rumors have cropped up, it’s another obstacle he’ll have to overcome.
However, those looking at the glass half-full will point to his marksmanship from behind-the arc – he’s shooting 42.9 percent from three-point land, far better than his numbers last season. Obviously a small sample size, but certainly encouraging for the Knicks coaching staff.
Still, Shumpert’s most valued skill and greatest gift is his lockdown, on-the-ball defense. Prior to his injury last season, Shumpert showed flashes of a future All-NBA defensive player. He was undoubtedly the team’s best perimeter defender.
However, how long will it be until Shumpert fully realizes the immense potential he showcased as a rookie? Are there any guarantees he’ll completely regain that athleticism that wowed opponents and teammates alike? Despite the recent success of a freak athlete like the Vikings Adrian Peterson, complete recovery from ACL surgery can often take up to 18 months. Peterson, who was named the NFL’s MVP, is the exception, not the rule.
Thus, trying to factor in Shumpert’s current limitations, while also weighing his potential upside, is problematic.
And even if New York decided that trading him makes the most sense, is now the right time? Would the Knicks foolishly be “selling low” on him? Should/could they delay trading him until he is closer to 100 percent, thus enabling them to bump up their eventual asking price?
On the flip side, what if Shump isn’t the same player pre- and post-ACL surgery? In that pessimistic scenario, this would be the perfect time to maximize his value.
Another potential positive to holding onto Shumpert would be retaining a foundation piece to build around after the Melo/Amar’e/Tyson contracts have run their course. Of course, that plan carries plenty of risk as well – i.e. signing Shump to a hefty extension once his rookie deal is up…
All things considered, with the way the Knicks are constructed, no player (outside of Anthony and Chandler) can be considered “untouchable.” This is the reality you have to accept when you embrace a “win now” mentality, as Grunwald and Woodson clearly have. But what would it take in order for the Knicks to consider parting ways with their most promising young player?
The most prevalent rumor making the rounds right now revolves around a Sun, Jared Dudley to be precise. HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy stoked the embers of this potential swap via Twitter late last Friday night, and other outlets have since confirmed its validity.
Dudley isn’t a flashy player, and can’t match Shumpert’s enticing upside, but there is no denying that Dudley is well suited to play with these Knicks. Shumpert is currently starting alongside Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, as the team’s de facto small forward, which is not an ideal fit. Dudley, on the other hand, is a sturdy 6’7” and a natural-born small forward.
And while he’s not quite the perimeter defender a healthy Shumpert projects to be, Dudley is by no means sieve on the defensive end. The on/off splits prove that the Suns are a far better team when he is on the floor – Phoenix gives up 6.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Dudley on the court.
In addition, Dudley is a more reliable and accurate shooter. Dudley is one of just eight NBA players currently shooting above 47 percent from the floor, 38 percent from three-point land, and 80percent from the free-throw stripe (the other seven members of this elite club are Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Jose Calderon, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Darren Collison, and Steve Nash). Among those eight, Durant, Calderon and Dudley are the only three that have maintained those phenomenal percentages while also converting at least 1.4 three-pointers per contest this season
For his career, Dudley has nailed 40.5 percent of all three-point attempts, which ranks 10th among all active players. Yes, Dudley’s career 3PT percentage is higher than noted marksmen such as Mike Miller, J.J. Redick, and even Ray Allen.
The Knicks take and make more three-pointers than any team in the NBA. For better or worse, New York will essentially live and die by the three in the postseason. Having a top-tier shooter that can space the floor by camping out in the corner, and is also able to keep the team’s defensive integrity intact on the other end of the floor… well, that’s intriguing to say the least.
Moreover, Dudley is 27 years of age and in currently his prime. He’s missed a grand total of one regular season games since the start of the 2009-10 campaign. His affordable contract (Dudley is set to make $4.3 million for three more seasons) also fits favorably within the construct of the Knicks current composition.
The decision to dump Shumpert would never be an easy one, but the ability to add Dudley to the Knicks mix is undoubtedly enticing.
What if the Suns were willing to include a first-round selection (Phoenix has acquired a stockpile of picks) in an upcoming draft along with Dudley. Would that be enough to force the Knicks hand?
Another name floating around the rumor mill is Redick of the Orlando Magic. If the Magic were in fact interested in Shumpert, the first issue would be getting salaries to match up. Redick is making $6.1 million this season. Unless Orlando wanted a player like Marcus Camby (and they don’t), a third team would have to be convinced to get involved.
More importantly, the downside with Redick is that he will become a free agent after this summer. Thus, the Knicks could potentially trade away Shumpert and have nothing to show for it if Redick signed somewhere else in July.
What about a defensive dynamo like Tony Allen? The Grizzlies have clearly been focused on cutting salary. Would they be interested in obtaining an improving young player still playing on a supremely affordable rookie-scale contract?
If the Knicks brass does decide to move Shumpert, they will obviously make sure they are maximizing the value of their asset. Grunwald has done a fantastic job since taking over from Donnie Walsh, and no one doubts that he’ll do the necessary due diligence. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt.
It’s also plainly evident that Grunwald and the Knicks decision-makers are comfortable forgoing youth in order to bring in veteran players ready to contribute immediately.
And if New York wants make a deep run this Spring, they may have to sacrifice Shumpert, and the potential upside he embodies.