Let’s start with a basic comparison of two young shooting guards. Player A is a 6-foot-5 winger who, in his three-year career, shoots 39 percent from the field with 7.7 points per game and a reputation (emphasis on reputation) for solid perimeter defense. Player B is 6-foot-6 and in his rookie year shot 42 percent and scored 10.2 points per game.
Those savvy to the New York Knicks roster probably already know; Player A is Iman Shumpert and Player B is Tim Hardaway Jr. With rumors circulating that the Oklahoma City Thunder are interested in trading for Shumpert, the Knicks should realize they have a clone of him already on the team and listen to Oklahoma City’s offer.
While moving Shumpert out of town would be tough, Phil Jackson understands as well as anyone that keeping Hardaway on the bench grinds his development to a screeching halt. While Shumpert’s growth has stalled, Hardaway still has a lot he can potentially add to his game.
He can be an elite three-point shooter and can use his size to be a good defensive player. And if he learns to dribble a little better, opposing defenses might even need to game plan for him. That’s the dream scenario for a team desperately in need of secondary scoring options. Shumpert is still young, but it’s clear he will never become that kind of player. Since he only has one year left on his rookie contract, the Knicks would be smart to trade him now.
The Thunder would be an ideal match. They’ve been interested in Shumpert for a while (he was rumored to be headed there at the trade deadline last February), and it’s pretty easy to see why. Shumpert is basically a younger, more athletic version of Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha has been a steady role player in Oklahoma City for six years and often started at shooting guard in Scott Brooks’ attempt for a defense-first starting five.
But Sefolosha has gotten so limited offensively that, when he started with Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder were basically playing 3-on-5 on offense. Shumpert is at least respectable enough at shooting that a defense needs to close out on him. On the Thunder, he could be an upgrade and fill in a role already established on the team.
Plenty players could help make this deal work, and the Thunder have a $6 million trade exception to make things easier. Jackson can probably get back the first-round draft pick he’s been longing to acquire too.
But whether or not the Thunder are the trading partner, the Knicks should probably move either Shumpert or Hardaway. The team is devoid of assets, so they have to take advantage of their one appealing surplus (emphasis on appealing, Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani).