The Cleveland Cavaliers’ midseason trade with the New York Knicks was lopsided from the beginning.
The Cavs received J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert while giving away just a 2019 second-round pick. For practically nothing they got a player in Shumpert that they desperately needed — a solid wing defenders capable of guarding three positions and a decent shooter who doesn’t need the ball.
Shumpert’s basic regular season numbers weren’t impressive — eight points, three rebound, two assists, one steal per game to go with 41% shooting, 33% from three-point range. However, a deeper dive shows Shumpert’s impact on the Cavs.
With Shumpert on the court, the Cavs were scored 108.9 points per 100 possessions, slightly higher than their average, and allowed a team-best 99.7 points per 100 possessions on defence. In total, the Cavs were outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions with Shumpert on the court, third best on the team, behind only LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov.
In the playoffs, Shumpert’s effect on the team has become even more pronounced. His basic averages have gone up to 10 points, five rebounds, one steal and one block per game, with 41% shooting, 34% from three-point range. In 333 postseason minutes (third-most on the team) Shumpert has a 12.8 net rating, third on the team behind Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, both of whom have played far fewer minutes.
When Smith missed the first two games of the Bulls series with a suspension, Shumpert started in his place and filled his shoes admirably. In Games 1 and 2, Shumpert averaged 18.5 points, four rebounds, two steals per game and shot 48.5% from downtown.
While Shumpert picked up his offensive production, his defensive intensity never let up, either. In the playoffs, Shumpert is allowing just 0.70 points per possession when guarding pick-and-roll ball-handlers — a task he’s frequently assigned as a wing. That number is 11th best in the NBA among players that have guarded at least 20 pick-and-rolls, according to NBA.com/Stats.
In the Bulls series, Shumpert was crucial in guarding Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. He held Rose to just 6-14 shooting (42%) and held Butler to just 12-30 shooting (40%) when guarding them.
Shumpert put it all together in the deciding Game 6, scoring 15 points with seven rebound, four assists, two steals, and one block.
Early on, he was turning defence into offence:
Being able to gather a defensive rebound, push the ball up the floor, find a teammate, and then knock down the three isn’t a common skill.
And Shumpert should have had an assist here:
LeBron James recently acknowledged Shumpert’s importance to USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt:
“When he catches and shoots or when he catches and drives, he’s very, very good. That’s what he’s doing for our team right now. He’s not waiting. He’s putting pressure on the defence, and that’s when he’s at his best.”
“He’s brought grit, toughness, the defensive mindset. That’s the first thing he thinks about. In a sport full of a lot of egos, to be able to have teammates and guys like Shumpert who just care about team success, it means a lot to a locker room and we’re very thankful to have him.”
Shumpert has always been a tantalising prospect because of his ability to defend and make an impact on offence. He’s always good defensively, but doesn’t always reach the elite level he’s capable of. And for all of his athleticism and smooth shooting stroke, his shooting percentages and scoring averages don’t reflect what he’s capable of on offence.
Now he’s putting it all together in the playoffs, and the Cavaliers are benefiting from it.
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