In the wake of Woj floating the Iman Shumpert-Jared Dudley trade rumor last night, there was of course an immediate rush to judgment. People quickly took sides, as if they couldn’t wait to declare the not-yet-consummated trade either a win or a loss. Most people’s takes boiled the trade down to one of a few either/or propositions: defense or offense, youth or experience, potential or the sure thing.
Of course, the decision on whether or not to make a trade is not as simple as any of those dichotomies. It’s about all those things, and more.
Making this potential deal into a strict defense (Shump) vs. offense (Dudley) proposition does a disservice to both players. It implies that Shump has no offensive value and Dudley has no defensive value, both of which aren’t exactly true.
For example, after shooting 26.8% from three in his first 28 career games, Shumpert has shot 37.6% from distance in his last 42 games. It’s only moved him to 32.4% overall, but there’s a larger NBA sample of him shooting well from three than shooting horribly. He was a poor three-point shooter in college, but he was also a point guard in college (just as he was in his early days in the Knicks), meaning he was shooting more off the dribble and less spotting up. Spot-ups are easier to make, and his move off the ball has seen his shooting percentages rise.
Shump is also still an excellent athlete despite his ACL injury, he’s good in transition and he’s flashed the ability to make some nice passes in the lane off side pick-and-rolls when he doesn’t have to work as the primary ball-handler. His main strength is defense, but implying he has zero offensive value is probably more than a little off base.
Similarly, implying Dudley has no defensive value is fairly ludicrous. He’s not in Shump’s league as a one-on-one defender, but he’s good positionally and in team concepts when defending pick-and-rolls and off-ball screens, the Suns have defended better with him on the court than off in each of the last three seasons (including 6.2 pts/100 better this season) and his size (6’7, 225) gives him greater ability to guard bigger wings - like the Paul Pierces and the LeBron Jameses the Knicks could see in the playoffs.
If Woodson doesn’t plan to use Shumpert to hound the opposition’s primary ball-handler (which, in light of his recent comments on the issue, seems like the case), the drop-off from Shump to Dudley defensively wouldn’t be nearly as big as one might initially think.
Let’s look at the dichotomy through the lens of a potential playoff series against Miami. The Heat more than likely would cross-match Shane Battier onto Melo and let LeBron guard whoever the non-Kidd starting wing winds up being. With the current alignment, the Knicks don’t really have the option of cross-guarding the same way and allowing Melo the easier defensive assignment of Battier. Woodson isn’t putting Shump on LeBron. Dudley allows for easier cross matching.
On the other end, defenders can’t roam as far away from Dudley on the perimeter as they can from Shumpert. Dudley is a 40.6% shooter from three for his career, significantly better than even Shump’s more recent better shooting stretch. Especially against the Heat, spacing the floor with shooters is incredibly valuable. What with Kidd’s dwindling three-point percentage of late, Felton and Melo shooting far above their career averages from deep, JR Smith’s general hot-and-coldness, and the clamps Miami put on Steve Novak in last year’s playoffs it could never hurt to have an extra deep shooter in the stable against the Heat.
This is the part where one would say, rather incredulously, “But who guards Wade???????” The answer to that question is the same as it would be if Shump were on the team: nobody. Sure, Shump can theoretically bother Wade and make things difficult for him, but Wade averaged 28 points on 56% shooting against him last season (h/t Dan Litvin). It’s not as if Shump shut him down. Nobody shuts Wade down. It can’t be done.
However, when we look at the same dichotomy through the prism of a series against Chicago, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, you start to see that the Knicks may be more likely to lose prior to a potential Eastern Conference Finals series against the Heat were they to be without Shump.
Simply put, none of the Knicks point guards can guard point guards. Kidd, Prigs and Felton are all too [slow, positionally deficient, weak against ball screens] to keep Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings or Jrue Holiday out of the lane. We’ve seen it against every team the Knicks have played this year that has a point guard who is even remotely quick. They get wherever the want on the court, and as a result compromise the rest of the Knicks defense in ways that are too tough for even the great Tyson Chandler to cover all by his lonesome.
Shump, in theory, is the antidote to this problem, if Woodson will allow him to be. He’s shown the ability to be one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire league. Case in point: In three games last season, Rose averaged 31.0 points against the Knicks. Incredible, right? Maybe not so much. He took 27.0 shots per game to get there, averaging 39.5% from the field, with 4.7 turnovers per game. In the April 8 game that saw Melo go off for 43 points and hit both the game-tying and game-winning jumpers from deep, Shump played 45 minutes and hounded Rose into an 8-26 shooting performance with 8 turnovers. It was fucking masterful. It was his best game of the year, and I’m not sure what else comes close.
If you don’t have Shump, there is not a single person on the roster capable of guarding a point guard for any significant stretch of play. Felton’s bulldog reputation covers up a slightly below average defender who sometimes plays worse. Kidd is far better suited to guarding wings. Prigs just isn’t quick enough to stay with guys off the dribble for long stretches of game time. He’s sneaky and gets his fair share of steals, but he too often gets beat at the point of attack.
All that is just this season, though. There’s also the future to consider. Painting the potential deal as an either/or proposition of win now vs. the future or sure thing vs. potential also does a disservice to both Shump and Dudley. Shump can help the team win now, and Dudley can help the team win in the future. Shump isn’t all potential, and Dudley isn’t necessarily done developing. It’s more about roster construction and fit than it is about vague notions of going “all-in.”
It’s a balancing act. Does Shump’s current on-ball defensive prowess and potential for more on both ends of the court outweigh Dudley’s outside shooting, positioning and general dependability for this season? For the next three until Dudley’s contract runs out? How about beyond that?
I don’t think we’d deny that Shump’s best potential self is better than the current version of Dudley. The question then becomes, “how likely is he to get there”? If we say there’s a 50% chance that he becomes fully actualized, is that enough to nix the deal? What if there’s a 40% chance? 30%? How do we even know what the percentage is?
Similarly, does Dudley’s current shooting advantage and reliability outweigh Shump’s potential as a stopper? What if Shump develops his offense even more? How likely is Dudley to keep up his shooting over the next few years, and will a probable defensive decline as he ages mitigate any further offensive gains he makes from sharing the court with Carmelo and Tyson Chandler rather than Michael Beasley and Luis Scola?
There’s also the chemistry angle to consider. The Knicks are 32-16 and in 2nd place in the East. Everyone is having a blast playing together. Shump is one of the most well-liked players on the team, a guy who seems to get along equally well with everyone. He’s the guy who gets all the players pumped up in the pre-game huddle (and when Rasheed Wallace, The Godfather of pre-game huddles, is on your team, that is a Goddamn honor). He’s the creator of Knickstape, whatever the hell it is. He has a flat top. He raps. He’s a fan favorite. He’s just FUN, man.
Do the Knicks want to shake up their chemistry at this stage of the game? Is the potential bump they’d get from what Dudley brings to the table worth it? Conversely, is preserving the vague notion of chemistry worth sacrificing a deal that potentially (and this season at least, likely) makes the team better?
Again, it’s a balancing act. There are really countless angles that could be and need to be considered. It’s not a move that you just make on a whim. Like any potential trade, there are advantages and there are drawbacks to this one. Which camp you fall in likely depends on how you frame the question. Just know that there’s more than one question that should be asked.