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Iman Shumpert is Not a Point Guard

The Knicks' rookie should be lining up at the two

By

Iman Shumpert and Chris Bosh

Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks tries to dunk over Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on January 27, 2012

Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann
Updated January 30, 2012
Iman Shumpert is a shooting guard.

He may not be one right now due to the extenuating circumstances surrounding the Knicks and their lack of a true point guard, but that's where he should spend the majority of his career. It's better that we -- and more importantly, the Knicks -- recognize this now and proceed accordingly, because wasting precious minutes of his career playing out of position any more than he already has will harm and stunt his development. Mike D'Antoni started this process on January 27 by moving Shumpert off the ball against the Miami Heat, and though it didn't result in one of his best games, it will be better for him in the long run.

I know, I know. Shumpert has certainly flashed the ability to be a playmaker on the offensive end of the court. But that doesn't mean he's a point guard. Anyone watching the Knicks can plainly see that he's looking for his own offense first, last and pretty much always. He has good court vision and has made a few tantalizingly excellent dishes off the dribble drive, but there's a reason those plays stand out in the mind of Knicks fans - they're rare.

The easiest way to tell that Shumpert is a shooting guard and not a point guard is to look at the way he affects his both his team's offensive efficiency and his teammates' shooting percentages when he is on and off the court. A good point guard will find his teammates better shots and thus their efficiency and percentages will be higher; but according to 82games, when Shumpert is on the court, the Knicks offense is 3.7 points per 100 possessions worse and their eFG% is lower than it is when he leaves and someone like Toney Douglas or Mike Bibby has taken over at the point. Given that those guys aren't exactly point guard savants, this should tell you a little bit about Shump's abilities as a distributor.

Stats like this can sometimes be misleading, but a quick look into the NBA.com StatsCube confirms that he's not making the Knicks' best players better when he's on the court.

Digging further into lineup data courtesy of BasketballValue, we can see that nine of the top 12 lineups Shumpert has played with by overall rating have him at shooting guard rather than point guard. Though this is an extremely small sample size - he's only played in 15 games - that definitely constitutes a trend. He's also performed better on an individual basis as a shooting guard, as 82games shows that his PER is a robust 18.2 (higher than players like Ray Allen and within range of guys like Joe Johnson) at the 2-guard position and just 5.2 as a point.

Even if all that still isn't enough to convince you, there's still the matter of the way Shumpert has gotten his offense so far this year. Shumpert has been at his most effective and efficient when he's gotten out in transition. No surprise, given his elite athleticism and the fact that transition opportunities are not usually contested as much as half-court opportunities. According to mySynergySports, Shumpert is averaging 1.26 points per possession (PPP) in transition, which places him 28th in the NBA. In these situations, he's been at his best when attacking the basket rather than pulling up for a jumper. He's 4-for-14 on transition jumpers overall and 15-for-17 on lay-ups and dunks. He's 17-for-24 on two-point shots on the break and just 2-for-7 when he pulls up for a transition three-pointer.

Shumpert has trouble shooting on the move on pretty much any play, which shouldn't be a surprise to the Knicks or their fans, since that was the case in college too. Shumpert was often out of position as the main ball-handler at Georgia Tech, and it led to him taking far too many off-balance, fade-away jumpers off the dribble. This problem has followed him to the pros. Because of the nature of the Mike D'Antoni's offense and Shumpert's role as the primary ball-handler for much of the season, most of his possessions have come via pick-and-rolls and isolation. This wouldn't be a problem, except that he's terrible at scoring via these plays. Shumpert has registered just 0.43 and 0.71 PPP on pick-and-rolls and isolations, respectively, and he's 18-for-67 from the field combined on those two plays. Any time Shumpert is asked to create and shoot on the move, he tends to drift or fade on his shot, and that throws it off. When you consider that these plays account for more than 40% of his offense so far, you begin to understand why his shooting percentages are so low.

Conversely, when he's spotting up as opposed to taking shots off the move, Shumpert has been much more effective. His 0.8 PPP as a spot-up shooter this season isn't elite, but it's much better than he's performed on every other type of play with the exception of transition and cuts, both of which create opportunities at the basket. Shumpert is 11-for-28 on spot-up three point attempts this season, an excellent 39.3% clip. On all of his other three point attempts, he's just 4-for-20. When he's spotting up, he's able to square his body, get in rhythm and fire, and he's had very good results. When shooting on the move, as I indicated earlier, he tends to drift and/or fade, and that throws off his shot.

So, here we have a player who struggles to create his own offense on pick-and-rolls and isolations, but excels when getting out in transition and spotting up. That's screams "SHOOTING GUARD," especially in an offense like Mike D'Antoni's that is geared around transition opportunities and pick-and-rolls. If used correctly, Shumpert can become sort of a Phoenix-era Raja Bell with slightly more varied offensive skills. He has the potential to be a better player than Bell, but he's in the same vein; lockdown defender who can spot-up for threes of the main pick-and-roll action, flash creativity off the dribble and get out in transition for easy baskets. It's not the superstar role Knicks fans clearly craved for him when he got off to a hot start to the season, but for a player the Knicks got wit the 17th pick in the draft, that's extremely solid.

Jared Dubin is the founder of the mildly popular NBA blog Outside The Arc and a contributor to Knicks Vision and the ESPN True Hoop Network affiliate Hardwood Paroxysm.

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