Not too many injured players in the NBA have been able to make themselves as relevant as Iman Shumpert has since tearing his left ACL and meniscus last April. He grew the flat top, dropped a mixtape and continued to lead the Knicks' pregame huddles with his dance moves and motivational words.
Now, Shumpert is set to bring that same spirit to the court, with a likely return on Thursday against the Pistons in London.
"I think I can relieve a little bit of the pressure as far as defensive presence; offensively -- just being that energy guy," he said after Saturday's practice. "I'm the youngest guy on the team."
Those 22-year-old legs will definitely come in handy, first and foremost, on the perimeter defensively, where he made his impact last season not backing down to any superior foe as a rookie.
"It's huge. Shumpert's a big part of this team," J.R. Smith said after practice. "We need defensive intensity to pick up guys and guard the toughest offensive player on the opposing team, so I can't wait to get him back."
It will take some time for Shumpert to get in rhythm, even though Amar'e Stoudemire said his teammate "looks strong and he looks healthy." Many players who have returned from serious ACL injuries will tell you they're not the same until months, if not a year, after their actual return. That's because game styles differ from how teams practice, and the knee takes time to adjust. While teams in training run at the pace they're accustomed to, opponents change the tune with their uptempo or grind-out approach.
Mike Woodson said he'll initially limit Shumpert's minutes "medical-wise," but expects gradual improvement as he goes -- just like with Stoudemire. What you saw from Avery Bradley against the Knicks last Monday is what Shumpert will look to soon bring on the defensive end.
If you watched Shumpert's reaction on the bench recently after an opposing guard scored on his team, you saw a stern, unhappy look. Too many times this season, guys from O.J. Mayo to Kyrie Irving to Jameer Nelson have torched the Knicks from the backcourt. And the Knicks haven't even faced Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
"It bothers me, but that's what I've been working for for eight months, so I can come back and help with the Knicks like that," Shumpert said. "Also, applying pressure on guards as far as us running our fastbreak, so that guys don't have as much energy to go at us on offense."
Where Shumpert will also help is with his driving explosiveness and passing ability to give the Knicks additional looks at the rim and ball movement opportunities. While Jason Kidd was initially playing well in Raymond Felton's absence, the future Hall of Famer has been on a decline with his minutes steady at more than 30 a game. Even Woodson admitted they're "not healthy" for him.
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