A few days ago there were reports that the New York Knicks were once again shopping guard Iman Shumpert on the market for a possible trade to “balance” the guard-heavy roster. On the same report, Tim Hardaway Jr. was deemed by the front office virtually untouchable during trade talks. I have a problem with that.
Some things you can learn throughout an NBA career, and some things you cannot. Hardaway Jr. is an NBA-ready scorer but not much else. He is the classic shooting guard, with a little more in terms of athletic conditioning and ability to drive to the hoop. In the modern day we are living in, though, the NBA has moved from the classic spot-up shooter, Ray Allen type of two-guard into something more dynamic, and Shumpert fits the bill perfectly.
He is everything a rebuilding team would want in terms of defensive IQ, effort and athleticism. Shumpert brought excitement and hope to Knicks fans during the last few months of the dismal 2013-14 season with a number of steals and pressure defense. His athleticism is among the best in the league, perhaps at the same level of Derrick Rose (when healthy), Russell Westbrook (when healthy) and many other high end athletic players, but his ability to guard any PG/SG/SF in the league is what makes him special. On a team so flawed in terms of defensive efforts, Shumpert managed to hold on to key opposing players and keep the Knicks ahead during close wins — or prevent them from further embarrassment during losses. He works so hard that it seems his offseason is as busy as his playing days. He should be the one deemed untouchable during trade talks.
One could argue that Shumpert has not developed into a great scorer yet, but there’s always time for him to lock himself in the gym and shoot 500 shots everyday to improve his marksmanship and really “learn how to shoot” (something that Hardaway Jr. already has pretty well figured out). For me it’s clear that improving his shot is a much easier task than teaching Hardaway Jr. how to be a defensive force. He is indeed young, but so far he has not shown any signs of being the perimeter defender needed in the triangle system.
There’s no question that a cheap and efficient scorer like Hardaway Jr. could be very valuable for the franchise for years to come, but losing Shumpert, even considering his price tag is sure to go up next summer, would be the first major mistake Phil Jackson and the Knicks front office could make. They need youth, identity and someone they can trust will give 100 percent on the court night in and night out to play for the team instead of putting big numbers for himself. In Iman Shumpert they have exactly that.