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Expect more from Iman Shumpert than early returns have shown

Despite three mediocre games before the All-Star break, Shumpert’s defense has been good enough for optimism despite his creaky shot.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Since being acquired from the Sacramento Kings in a three-team deal on February 6, it hasn’t been exactly storybook for Iman Shumpert. In the three games since being shipped from an organization that loved him dearly, Shumpert is shooting a measly 25 percent from three and 23.5 percent from the field, good enough to land him in the 5th percentile for offensive efficiency (per Synergy Sports).

However, as Rockets fans learned from Austin Rivers’ hot start in Houston, you can’t judge a player based off his first few games. Therefore, a more prudent approach to judging the early returns of Shumpert’s addition is to look at his shot distribution to see how the Rockets’ staff intends to use him.

Thus far, it seems as though coach Mike D’Antoni intends to finish the transformation Dave Joerger started in Sacramento: turning Shumpert into a full-time 3-and-D player.

Now, it’s not that Shumpert can’t create— he’s actually shown flashes of being quite good at it when in a pinch— he’s just better served cutting down on the habitual mid-range pull-ups that have kept him below league average efficiency his entire career. It’s no accident his budding reemergence into NBA relevancy with the Kings aligned with a simplified role that focused on running in transition and a career-high three-point attempt rate (percentage of total shots coming from three).

Still, it appears that the Rockets so far have gone a little too far with the eight-year veteran’s new role, as Shumpert’s 94-percent three-point rate in Houston is so high that even Gerald Green would scoff at it.

Although Shumpert was shooting a sizzling 39.1 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in Sacramento (which would be 2nd on the Rockets to Chris Paul), his career 34 percent from deep shows he’s not the level of shooter that can take virtually all of his shot from three and remain effective. Even as his shot progresses to the mean, a more balanced distribution of offense should help Shumpert regain his Sacramento form.

Nevertheless, despite his shooting woes, Rockets fans should be encouraged by the prowess Shumpert has shown in the other part of the 3-and-D equation despite not yet fully familiarizing himself with their scheme. Thus far, Shumpert has forced as many turnovers as any other Rocket and is allowing a stifling 0.545 points per possession defending pick-and-roll ball handlers.

As General Manager Daryl Morey told Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle, the main reason they acquired Shumpert was his defensive acumen, in particular his ability to switch. As Atkins reported, the Rockets have been keeping tabs on Shumpert’s defensive activity since failing to sign him in 2017 in case a trade scenario emerged:

“...according to the Rockets’ in-house statistics, Shumpert is in the top 20 percent of guards in quality of shot allowed, meaning he kills an opponent’s shooting percentage, especially at the rim, where he is in the top 10 percent.”

Based his track record and his success defensively so far, once Shumpert settles into a groove offensively, the Rockets have another legit contributor on their hands.