Halfway through the 2018-19 season, things couldn’t have been going much better for Iman Shumpert.
After being exiled to Sacramento at the 2018 trade deadline after injuries and poor play limited his role in Cleveland’s rotation, it appeared as though Shumpert was on his way out of the league.
However, after a successful summer of rehab, Shumpert was one of the driving forces behind the Kings’ surprising competence this season. He mentored their young prospects, paid their fines, and ultimately emerged as the team’s clear cut 3-and-D contributor. Entering the trade deadline, Shumpert was on pace for the best season since his rookie year, averaging 8.9 points and 2.2 assists per night on 38 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from three for an above-.500 squad.
Based on that impact, it makes sense why Daryl Morey decided to throw Shumpert into the revolving door of 3-and-D experiments that amassed the Rockets’ rotation this season. Houston’s front office had always kept tabs on Shumpert for his defensive acumen, so his newfound success from range, intuitively, made him a natural fit with the Rockets.
Unfortunately, Shumpert’s long range surge in Sacramento was merely a flash in the pan. Per NBA.com’s tracking data, after hitting 39 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes in Sacramento, Shumpert barely cracked 30 percent in Houston. Despite Houston’s system creating an even greater proportion of open shots for Shumpert than he received in Sacramento, the eight-year veteran never found a rhythm.
Perhaps the role shift from occasional creator to full-time perimeter marksman was a difficult adjustment that threw off Shumpert’s game. Or perhaps Shumpert merely regressed towards his 34 percent career average after a hot few months. Regardless, Shumpert’s shot abandoned him in Houston, which ultimately prevented him from ever carving out a role of any significance.
His 4.6 points and 1.1 assists per game on 34.7 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three during his 20-game run in Rockets red during the season were all career worsts. And the team was 7.2 points better with him off the court— which was also a career worst.
Thankfully, the trade did end up bearing some fruit, as Shumpert managed to impact the series against he and the Rockets’ shared foe, the Golden State Warriors. Just like the 2016 finals, Shumpert’s pitbull approach flustered the Splash Brothers for stretches, while making shots at a decent enough rate to keep himself on the court.
Mostly, however, Shumpert’s time in Houston was an unmitigated disaster. It yanked him away from a low stakes, bounce-back season in a contract year and dropped him into a niche system on the game’s biggest stage before he seemed ready (the parallels with Jeremy Lin’s decision to leave Atlanta for Toronto are endless, in this regard).
It’s possible if the Rockets hadn’t already signed Austin Rivers and Shumpert had stayed healthy, that he would’ve jelled in Houston. But the fit was awkward from the start, and Morey should’ve known that. Regardless, a general manager can only do so much when given a mandate to get under the tax, but also improve the roster at the same time.
Shumpert’s a free agent this summer. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up after mostly laying an egg in H-town.