The Cleveland Cavaliers, well over the luxury tax and with more pressing roster needs and contract situations, allowed backup PG Matthew Dellavedova to leave for Milwaukee this off-season. This move created a void at the point guard position behind entrenched starter Kyrie Irving. With no real and viable option at the position, and rookie guard Kay Felder being out with injury, Iman Shumpert has had to step into a role that does not appear natural to him.
We’ve seen this before with Shumpert. When the New York Knicks drafted him out of Georgia Tech, the pervasive thought within the organization was that he was a good enough ball handler, that he could man the starting PG spot at MSG. Between injuries and some natural skill-set limitations, Shumpert was never able to really become a reliable play maker or shooter, much less a dynamic one.
Now, entering his second full season as a Cleveland Cavalier, he finds himself in that familiar situation once again. There were rumblings all off-season that, perhaps, Cavs brass had grown wary of Shumpert’s off-court situations. A DUI, a seemingly significant and intense focus on the worlds of rap and fashion and a trade value that, perhaps, would never be higher on the floor, put Iman and Cleveland in an interesting position, asking an important question: “Can and should we trade Iman Shumpert?” It would seem that, despite a brief flirtation with the Minnesota Timberwolves, GM David Griffin was unable to find a package in return that made sense. The goal now, for Griffin and Lue, is to find a way to use Iman in a way that allows his natural skill-set to shine. Here are some ideas that may allow the Cavaliers to do just that.
- Get Iman off of the ball. He is an adequate passer and ball handler, but far from elite and not someone that inspires a ton of confidence for long stretches of meaningful basketball minutes doing that. He is a good enough shooter that the Cavs can use him very similarly to how JR Smith functions in the offense. Basically, “handle it if you have to, use and set screens, get out of the way, and create for yourself”. Cleveland has the best passer on the planet wearing number 23, so they don’t need big time minutes from a backup. Stagger some minutes with him, JR, and Shumpert, and you ought to be able to facilitate whatever version of Lue’s offense you want or need to.
- Find ways to get him onto the block. The Cavs displayed a tricky little “half pin-down” play against New York in game one this season. Shumpert starts on the wing, shows that he is screening down, and at the last second, sort of peels off when the defense gets switchy prematurely. Shumpert has the size and strength to push smaller defenders around enough to create space for himself. He’s also a good enough passer that he can find a slashing LeBron or JR after they blow by a larger, or slower defender who is out of position from the early switch.
- If Shumpert does have to get major minutes as the primary ball handler, the Cavs should be constantly pushing the tempo. If you allow the defense to set themselves, find their match-ups, or settle into the zone we see teams in when Shumpert is the primary, things are going to slow down too much. I don’t mean to imply that the Cavs should be taking quick shots here. It isn’t about that. It is simply about getting into your sets quickly so that defenses can’t gain favorable mismatches. Bigs trailing the play will, in likelihood, get stuck out on the wing to deal with Cleveland’s crafty wings while smaller defenders will have to plug the paint. From there, a slow down into a quick hitting set, or a play like I mentioned above, can exploit those mismatches even further.
The Cavaliers need Iman Shumpert to be better than he was last year when he shot miserably from the field, and shockingly poorly in catch and shoot situations. So far, things are looking up, but there is work yet to be done. At this point, moving Iman seems unlikely, if not ill-advised. Griffin, it would appear, is not content simply to dump Shumpert for luxury tax relief. His $10 million salary is actually a tremendous value after the paydays we saw this past summer. As we know, however, the NBA is a league that relies on player movement and transactions to sustain itself. Who knows who may be available by the trade deadline in February. And who knows if Shumpert will be healthy enough to get any sort of meaningful return.
The onus lies solely on the shoulders of Lue to see to it that Shumpert is engaged, maximized, and successful.