It's just in time.
It seems like there's a chance the Knicks' sophomore guard Iman Shumpert might possibly, potentially be perhaps starting his second NBA season on Thursday. And the team needs him now more than ever.
New York has been hurt by some injuries, which might seem trivial on the exterior, but have really hurt them in reality. There was Shumpert's ACL. There has been Sheed's stress reaction, which seems to have more of the timetable of a stress fracture. Camby: out. Felton: out. But that's what happens when you have the oldest team in the history of the NBA.
Camby doesn't seem like he'd be a major contributor that would absorb significant playing time and Rasheed Wallace was averaging only 14.6 minutes per game in 20 games played before he got hurt, but the impact both of those guys makes on the defensive end is something the Knicks have desperately missed in their absence. Throwing out a starting lineup with standout names like Kurt Thomas, who is the oldest player in the NBA and looks like me - post-college weight - in a tank top, is not the best way to maintain a defensive identity.
(I know lineup data says the Knicks often become a better defensive team with Thomas on the court, but that might be a product of Small Sample Size Theater. In an attempt at fairness, though, the most often-used Thomas lineup of Felton-Brewer-Anthony-Thomas-Chandler is only allowing 0.89 points per possession, according to 82games.com. But even though that is Thomas' most used lineup, it has logged under 30 total minutes on the season. So let's wait for that minutes total to grow a little more before we make an official decision.)
And guess what…Even at the high rate the Knicks have been winning this year (they currently sit at 24-13, one game back of Miami for the best record in the Eastern Conference), they haven't been doing it with defense.
After ranking fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, allowing only 94.7 points per 100 possessions, a total so strong that it got Tyson Chandler the Defensive Player of the Year, the Knicks have fallen all the way to 20th in that category in 2012-13. They are allowing almost 12 more points per 100 possessions (106.2 defensive efficiency) and are giving up 96.8 points per game. That's no good. But you know what is good? An Iman and the Knicks might be getting back one of those this week.
Yes, Iman Shumpert, the Knicks' best perimeter defender (sorry, Ronnie Brewer) and the ultimate black hole, might be back on the court this Thursday. And Knicks fans should be giddy. But as good as Shumpert might stand to be, the second-year guard might not have the best fantasy value in the world.
It's supremely possible that when it comes to fantasy ownership, the idea of Shump might actually trump real-life Shump. Don't get me wrong; he's good. He can have value. But with all the talk there is surrounding The Return of Iman, the result may not match up with the expectations, at least in a fantasy sense.
While Shumpert was a strong rookie last year, he wasn't particularly efficient. He shot 40.1 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from three, while posting a subpar 10.8 PER (league average is 15). He's one of the league's premium black holes even if his stats don't fully show it. Give him the ball and you probably won't get it back. He averaged only 11.3 field goal attempts per 36 minutes last season, but that number might stand to change.
Shumpert began his rookie year as a tall, long point guard that could stifle shorter guards on the defensive end of the floor. And while he proved that he can absolutely be a dominant defensive point guard, the Knicks realized that his aggressive mentality on the offensive end of the floor might suit him better if he played off the ball. So as the year went on, Iman played less point guard and more shooting guard. And it worked.
Shumpert shot 43 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three in March and April after shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from long range in the first three months of the season. But as the efficiency improved, the volume dropped. Shumpert attempted only 7.4 shots a game in the final two months of the season after attempting 10.7 a game in December, January, and February. It's simply harder to be a chucker when you don't have the ball in your hands to start every play.
Upon initially returning, Shumpert might be forced into playing some more point guard than was in the original plan. With Felton out, the Knicks have been feeling around for the right time to play the right guy at point guard for a few weeks. Sometimes it's Jason Kidd. Sometimes it's Pablo Prigioni. But at this point in his career, Kidd is more valuable as an off-ball, spot-up shooter. Meanwhile, Prigioni is a nice third point guard - actually, he's a great third point guard - but he probably isn't anymore than that and you may not feel too comfortable with a 35-year-old rookie gobbling up the 22.5 minutes a night he has averaged in the Knicks' seven games since the new year.
That means for a little while, it's possible we see Shumpert getting some time at the one, at least until Felton comes back and the Knicks can revert to their preferred rotation. If Shumpert gets to run the point, watch for a high volume of shots. He might hurt efficiency, but he's a young, athletic, aggressive player that could turn into a capable scorer. There's a lot of room for improvement following his 9.5 points per game in 28.9 minutes a night last year.
But if Shump sees plenty of time off the ball, don't be surprised to see that fantasy value go down, especially considering his main mission will be on the defensive side of the ball. How easy is it for a second-year player coming off an ACL injury to be a team's feature wing defender and to dominate on the offensive end? Not very. That's why we might see Mike Woodson employ a strategy that basically says, "Hey Iman, I don't care about your offense. Don't exhaust yourself. We need you ravaging guys on the defensive end. Play your tail off there and any scoring you can give us on the other side is just gravy."
Now, Shumpert might violently try to score anyway for one of many reasons: He really likes to score, he might not pay attention to Woodson because he is distracted by an extraordinary lack of brow, he really likes to score, guys with high tops look way cooler when the ball is swishing through the net, he may tune out Woodson as he wonders how painful it was when his coachgave birth to Steve Harvey, and also he really likes to score. But realistically, a high volume of points and assists may not be coming from Shump.
So if you have him, now might be a good time to make a trade while his value is still as high as his hair. Otherwise, you might find yourself disappointed if Shump only concentrates on the skills at which he's best once he returns.
Fred Katz is an NBA writer for RotoWire. Contact him on Twitter at @FredKatz.