As the Knicks begin their rebuild on the fly, it is necessary for Phil Jackson and his staff to make decisions about pieces they already have on their roster. The Knicks are trying to build a championship roster. No team has won an NBA championship over the past 30 years without a player they’ve drafted in their rotation. That leaves them with a decision to make at the shooting guard position. Mercurial shooting guard J.R. Smith will probably not be on the team in the long-term because he has a player option that he would be wise to exercise next summer. The two long-term options are former fan- favorite, Iman Shumpert and explosive scoring guard Tim Hardaway Jr. One of these two young guards will be a pivotal player on a New York Knicks squad that will be looking to contend for an NBA championship in the future. Which of these two is best suited to be the shooting guard of the future? They both bring different personalities and approaches to the game. Their skill sets are very different, yet both have the potential to be an integral part of a winning team.
Iman Shumpert was a fan favorite from day one. His defensive tenacity and cool energy was enticing to Knick fans all over the world. In his rookie season, he drew praise from figures around the league. Former Phoenix Suns Head Coach, Lindsey Hunter, once called him the best perimeter defender in the league. He wowed crowds with his impressive vertical and a swagger that made him look like a star in the making. He went on to win All-Rookie First Team honors in his first season, but a torn ACL in his first playoff game vs. the Miami Heat became a major bump in the road of his development. By the time Shumpert had recovered from his knee injury, things had changed in New York, and his role became uncertain. In Mike Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense, Shumpert struggled to find consistent shots for himself, and his confidence waned. Once in a while, he’d have a game or two where he’d get hot from 3-point range and play with the energy that endeared him to Knicks Nation. All in all, though, he went from being regarded as a potential star to being regarded as a “3 and D” guy at best. His greatest strengths are his on-ball defense and his spot-up shooting, especially from the corners. His weaknesses are his off-ball defense and shot creation. He doesn’t finish well around the rim, and his deficiency in that area belies his athletic ability. On the bright side, he’s only 24-years-old, and he can still develop his offensive game. A more stable defensive system than the one he’s had to function in will improve his focus on the defensive end.
Tim Hardaway Jr. was received with mixed reviews when he was drafted 24th overall by the Knicks in 2013. There were concerns about his shooting ability and whether or not his game would translate to the NBA, but those concerns were soon assuaged when he showed that his ability to hit from 3-point range along with his finishing ability at the rim (especially in transition situations) proved to be one of the best on the team. His shot selection as a rookie was poor, but he was still an exciting player due to his confidence in his shot. To put it nicely, he was horrid on the defensive end. He routinely got lost trying to stay with his man through screens, and he wasn’t strong enough to deal with bigger guards. Despite the ups and downs of his rookie year, he managed to make the All-Rookie First Team. His strengths are in his scoring ability, and he has shown the ability to hit spot-up jumpers and shots off of screens. He is an adept finisher in the paint and in transition. His weaknesses include his shot selection, ball handling, and defensive awareness. Whenever he is under pressure, he tends to rush his shots and lose sight of his teammates. Defensively, the effort is there, but he needs to be coached and put on some weight if he is ever to be a decent defender. He needs to become a better ball handler for himself and his teammates because not having that ability makes him easy to guard and to neutralize.
Going forward, one of these guys has to step up and become a key contributor for the Knicks. If you were in charge of the Knicks, which of them would you tip to do it? Do you think that either of them has what it takes? What would you do with the other one? Phil Jackson has these types of choices in front of him in the days to come.