Two years ago the Cavs made a series of trades that netted them the sharpshooter J.R. Smith, a big Russian teddy bear named Timofey Mozgov, and a “three-and-D” wing with massive potential, Iman Shumpert.
The latter part of this trade was the supposed “highlight.” Shumpert was touted to be the next Jimmy Butler-esque defensive player, he had experience as a point guard, and he could make open three-point shots at a very respectable clip.
In the 2015 NBA Playoffs – where J.R. Smith was suspended two games, Kevin Love’s arm was ripped out of socket causing him to miss the last three rounds, and Kyrie Irving’s knee issues caused him to miss multiple games – Shumpert was outstanding. In nearly thirty-five minutes per game Shumpert averaged 9.4 points per game with a 35.5% three-point percentage, 4.9 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, and held opponents to a 2.8% worse field goal percentage than they averaged.
Shumpert was becoming a positive contributor in front of NBA fans’ eyes. The thought was that he could become a Tony Allen type defender with a respectable offensive game. The Cavs knew they had to retain him, and very quickly signed him to a double-digit salary over multiple years. Everyone rejoiced.
That is, everyone rejoiced until Shumpert broke his hand before the 2015-16 season started. Shumpert started the season late, and while he had a few memorable moments – great defense against Orlando in his first game back, a game-saving steal against Dirk, important defense against new teammate Kyle Korver in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, etc. – he was mediocre overall.
During the 2015 NBA Playoffs, with Shumpert as the primary defender, opponents made 5.8% more of their shots in general and 15.9% more of their shots inside the painted area. This resulted in him being a net negative in just about every way during the Cavs’ championship run.
This mediocrity has continued into the 2016-17 season. Overall, Shumpert just has not been effective. The initial plan going into the season was that the former Georgia Tech guard would serve as the backup point guard to Kyrie Irving. That plan has failed.
Shumpert is averaging 1.7 assists per game and only twenty passes per game, he is turning the ball over more than ever in his career, and since the Christmas Day game against Golden State is shooting 33.3% from the field, 19.2% from the three-point line, 16.7% on catch-and-shoot attempts, and 30.5% on open and wide-open shots.
These numbers are absolutely horrendous. Shumpert has been beyond useless on offense, and frankly, teams are starting to leave him wide-open with no fear of him shooting. And for good reason.
On the above play, Gordon Hayward leaves Shumpert completely alone from the three-point line, Shumpert gets a good look at the basket, and completely bricks the open three.
If this were the only problem, though, Shumpert would still be useful to the Cavs because of his defense. But his defense has been just as abysmal as his offense. Shumpert ranks in the bottom 18th percentile of pick-and-roll defenders and the bottom 50th percentile of isolation defenders.
The Cavs are arguably better at defending isolation plays without Shumpert. They rank in the 86th percentile at defending isolation plays in the NBA. Thus, Shumper’s ISO defense is worse than the Cavs as a team. Below is a video demonstrating examples of Shump’s bad overall defense.
The three clips above show instances where Shumpert overplays driving lanes, and consequently, leaves the man he is defending wide-open. In these cases those men include Gordon Hayward and Evan Turner, and as a result, they torched the Cavs.
Shumpert’s abysmal pick-and-roll defense does not help the Cavs – who rank in the bottom four percentile in the NBA – and consequently he does not help cover Kyrie Irving, who is one of the worst pick-and-roll defenders in the NBA, ranking in the bottom ten percentile. What this means is that when Shumpert and Irving share the floor, the Cavs have arguably the worst defense on ball handlers in the pick-and-roll in the NBA. The video below demonstrates why.
In the first clip, Portland attacks both Irving and Shumpert in the pick-and-roll, the latter blitz’s the ball-handler too hard, and Portland scores a wide-open three-point shot. In the second, Shumpert overplays the driving lanes, leaving a wide-open three for the Jazz.
These two clips point to something even scarier than Irving’s laziness and Love’s lack of lateral quickness. Iman Shumpert is perfectly able to defend the pick-and-roll, but he is not thinking, and thus makes the wrong reads. This same problem can be seen in the above video regarding Shumpert overplaying driving lanes. He simply is not a smart defender. Consequently no matter how hard he defends, or how athletic he may be, Shumpert may never have the basketball IQ to become an elite defender.
Shumpert will replace Liggins in the starting lineup against the Kings. Hopefully, for Cavaliers fans, this serves as a boost to the wing’s play. If not – on a team with far better shooters and a few better defenders – he may find himself unnecessary in Cleveland. That would be a shame for both the Cavs and for Shumpert, as only two years ago he was thought to be a large part of the team’s exciting future.


  1. He must have read this article because he came up big today. I’m typically a big fan of your articles but to pull up his recent shooting slump doesn’t do him justice this year as he’s shooting well from 3 this season and is frankly way too small a sample size to take anything from it

    • It has been an eleven game slump – good for about one-eighth of a total regular season, a little over one-fourth of this season, and one-half a playoff run. While that is a “small sample size” at what point is it no longer a small sample? If you move it back to the past fifteen games he is shooting a whopping 30% from three-point land, which creates a low enough point per possession rate that it is worth it to leave a shooter unguarded. Shumpert, at his best, is a slightly above-average three-point shooter. Just as the last fifteen games may not be reflective of his abilities, neither was his oddly hot start to the season.

      And moreover, the most important part of the article is that Shumpert has not developed as a defender whatsoever. He is making poor defensive reads. Last night – in a game everyone is lauding him for offensively – he made three terrible defensive reads to start the second half and that allowed for three wide-open Sacramento three-point shots.

      I hope Shumpert improves. But since he’s been a Cav, Shumpert had two good month-long spans: the 2015 playoff run and the start of this season.

    • It’s a tough question. Ultimately, with the standings as close as they are right now, it may be impossible to find a contributor available at Shump’s level. If a playmaking wing becomes available – a Tyreke Evans for example – the Cavs should see what Shump’s value is. I’m not sure what the team can do, unfortunately, but I’d imagine they are looking.


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