Whenever Iman Shumpert takes a shot, I cringe. Since coming to the Houston Rockets as GM Daryl Morey’s major trade deadline acquisition, Shumpert shot just 34 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep in 20 regular season games.
He hasn’t been much better in the playoffs, shooting just 31 percent from both the field and from beyond the arc. And he doesn’t take the most efficient shots, which is when I really start to yell, “No, No, No!” at my screen.
During the regular season, 11 percent of Shump’s shots have been long twos from the 16+ feet range. That’s only dipped to 10 percent in the postseason. As a comparison, James Harden shoots only 1 percent of his shots from this range and no one else currently on the Rockets takes more than 6 percent of those types of shots. It’s a very un-Rockets thing to do. Maybe the most un-Rocket thing you can do.
He just didn’t seem to be fitting in as well as hoped, and when he played just 16 combined minutes in Houston’s 4-1 series win over the Utah Jazz in the first round, no one batted an eye.
But a funny thing has happened as the Rockets head back to California (most would make a Biggie “I’m going... going... back... back... to Cali... Cali...” joke, but I’m old enough to make an LL Cool J “I’m going back to Cali, to Cali, to Cali...” joke), Iman Shumpert has been one of the major difference makers off the bench for the Rockets.
Sure, you’re not likely to see his impact in the box score, as he’s averaging just 4.5 points per game in the series, but much like P.J. Tucker (who often does show up in the box score), Shumpert plays with certain intangible qualities that make him a valuable asset in games against the Golden State Warriors.
First, he’s played and beaten those guys in the postseason with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He knows what it takes, and he’s the only player currently on the Rockets with a championship ring. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni recently had this to say to the Houston Chronicle about Shump’s impact against the Dubs:
“He’s tough and he’s been there – he’s been through the Finals and knows what it takes. Whether he makes his shots or not, I was kind of overlooking some of the other things he was giving us, just toughness and his ability to be able to turn up the burners.”
Shumpert’s defensive ability is invaluable as the Rockets continue to switch just about everything against the Warriors — which many view as the only way to slow them down. And as Danuel House was at first struggling in the postseason bright lights and is now injured, it’s been Shump who has picked up the slack off the bench for the Rockets.
He also does the little things on offense that you don’t always see on first glance, but just check out this flare screen he sets for Austin Rivers. And the best part is that he calls it...
Shump makes a number of "done this before" plays per game that will never show up in the box score. Sometimes its flipping a ball screen. Sometimes its having the awareness to set a flare screen for a trailing shooter in semi-transition to create a wide open 3 pic.twitter.com/dNvLnYqLWV— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) May 7, 2019
As a result of plays like this, Shumpert’s finished every single game against Golden State with a positive plus-minus, finishing the four games thus far as a +3, +5, +6 and +1.
And now suddenly, that shot is also starting to fall. He’s 4-7 from three-point range in Houston’s wins in the last two games. And those longs twos that make us scream at our TV? Shump’s hitting from 16+ range at a 50 percent clip in the postseason (and hit it at 54 percent during the season), making that shot a viable last-minute scoring option if everything else has been shut down.
That shot starting to fall is just the icing on the cake for Mike D’Antoni, who said:
“One, he’s been in these moments, Finals, Two, defensively, toughness he gives us. Then if he makes shots, it’s a bonus. I just felt like we needed toughness and needed defense and needed hustle and needed guys that aren’t afraid of the moment.”
That being said, expect to see Shump again in tonight’s Game 5, even though Danuel House is expected to be healthy enough to play. This is simply a good matchup for Shumpert, whose veteran swag gives him a leg up on the struggling rookie. This is specifically why Daryl Morey brought him aboard.
In fact, Shump’s been imparting veteran wisdom on his teammates all series, telling the Chron he has a few secrets up his sleeve both for beating Golden State and for coming back from a deficit. It’s going to take two more wins to hear it though.
“I’ll tell you after we come back and win this.”