Exactly midway through the second quarter, well before Game 5 had drifted out to a place beyond hope, LeBron kicked the ball out for a nice open three, as LeBron likes to do. The pass might’ve been a few inches low, but still left this teammate plenty of time to beat Kevin Durant’s scrambling closeout.
This was the result.
Was it always like this? It wasn’t always like this. In retrospect, it’s hard to suss out how much of this was desperate Knicksy delusion, but I remember when Iman Shumpert picked 17th in the NBA draft and was full of something approximating promise. I remember a guy who attracted some Defensive Player of the Year votes as a rookie, a guy so springy his flattop appeared to clear the backboard, though he always looked a bit confused about what to do once he got all the way up there. (Fittingly, I remember a lot of uncontested, bricked layups.) Having the ball in his hands always seemed like grounds for panic; he was better when snatching it out of the air and putting it back where it belonged. Here is my single fondest Shump memory, a flourish off the glass that won the Knicks a game:
And there were all the damn dunks, too. Like this one from his rookie season:
Or this one from his sophomore year:
And especially this one:
For a certain breed of starved optimist, those few seasons were enough to fuel overblown, misguided what ifs: what if he could just play some pesky lengthy defense against the 1 through 3, clean the glass and find some easy layups, drain the open three at a good clip? What happened instead? An ACL tear to close out his rookie year, wrist issues that sidelined him for three months last year, but also just a general lack of development.
For a guy who came into the league lacking offensive instincts, Shumpert seems awfully content to stay useless on one end of the court, a perfect hiding place for any foe’s trash defenders. For the Knicks, he shot 39.6 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent from three. On the Cavs, even when benefiting from the passing genius and gravity of LeBron, those figures stayed put at 40.0 percent and 33.7 percent.
Despite this stagnation Shump has found a reasonably lucrative niche in the league not quite as a three-and-D guy, but merely as a ???-and-D guy, with even that latter rep a bit overstated. Synergy Sports places his last season in the 52nd percentile of all defenders in terms of points allowed per play. Taking the full view of his career, he peaked his rookie year in the 64th percentile, then sunk down to the 21st last season before returning to the middle of the pack this year. To his credit, over the years he has sporadically excelled at isolation defense, landing in the 90th percentile this past season, though those plays comprised only 7.4 percent of the plays he faced; he was average on the pick-and-rolls (44th) and handoffs (37th) that comprised the majority.
Also to his credit: he’s in at least the 90th percentile of NBA rappers, and he delivered baby Iman Jr. with his own hands. Those are plenty cool, but they hardly drown out the aftertaste of, well, this: